School lab volunteer loves kids, science and wants kids to love science

‘Hero’ volunteer supports teachers while inspiring kids to love science

Setting up and taking down labs is time consuming for science teachers.

So Debbie McReynolds, a retired lab tech for the City of Odessa, asked if she could help by prepping the labs and cleaning up.

The volunteer opportunity in the Ector County ISD has since evolved into much more. McReynolds is credited with not only helping teachers, but also inspiring students with engaging, hands-on learning experiences.

Recently, her efforts were recognized when she was named a State Board of Education (SBOE) Hero for Children. She is one of just 15 people to earn this distinction, which is given annually to one representative from each SBOE District. She’s also recently been honored with the W.D. Noel Adult Volunteer of the Year award through the Nonprofit Management Center’s Beacon Awards.

McReynolds contends that she has personally benefited from her decision to volunteer. She used her moment in the spotlight to encourage others to consider volunteering, too.

“It may take some of your time, but the blessing comes back to you,” she says in a video profile by the school district.

McReynolds has been a volunteer in the Ector County ISD for eight years. She both operates the Hays STEAM Academy science lab and also provides invaluable instruction to district children.

According to Ector County ISD, McReynolds cleaned up, organized, inventoried and labeled everything in the science lab at Hays STEAM Academy. “When teachers sent her a lesson plan, Debbie pulled all the materials and supplies, cleaned up and reset for the next class rotation,” the district said.

She’s credited with employing creative science lessons, such as leading students in learning about weather and making snow in a jar, and for assisting in the Sharkfinder program at Hays, Dowling, Johnson and Gale Pond Alamo elementary schools. She worked with students to sieve through “ancient marine sediment using digital and stereo microscopes to make observations,” according to the district. Students contributed to real scientific research and were excited to identify shark teeth, fossils and other specimens, district officials added.

“So often, science is something that is dreaded as a subject, and science can be so much fun and so interesting,” McReynolds said, adding that the labs provide a hands-on opportunity.

“I love kids. I love science. And I want kids to love science.”

“It becomes alive to them when they can actually see what is going on,” she added. “Like you can separate salt from water by heating it. That ability to see kids kind of perk up when they get it. I just love the response I get from the kids…”

McReynolds highlighted the power of volunteering.

“There’s so many ways to volunteer that are helpful and engaging,” she said.

As a volunteer, McReynolds says she gets to see “a little” of what must happen to make a school function well.

“I grow in my admiration for those who are responsible for the day to day operations,” she said. “When I work with the wonderful, creative, dedicated young women who also volunteer at Hays, I am blessed by their hearts for the children at Hays, their desire to make the tasks for the teachers and administrators easier, and the example of volunteerism they are passing down to their children.”

So why volunteer?

“The better question is why would I or anyone else rob themselves of the blessings associated with volunteering?,” McReynolds said.

Debbie McReynolds with her award, standing with SBOE District 1 representative Georgina Perez