Hays volunteer wins state award

Debbie McReynolds wasn’t looking for awards or acclaim when she set out to volunteer at Hays STEAM Academy, but she got them anyway.

McReynolds received the Hero for Students award from the State Board of Education and was recognized with the other regional winners during the SBOE meeting in Austin on Sept. 2.

She is one of just 15 people to earn the distinction which is given annually to one representative from each SBOE District.

McReynolds has been giving of her time for eight years, according to the Ector County ISD newsletter, but said she has been really active the past five.

Her emphasis is the lab at Hays.

“That’s my love. That’s what I studied at school and that’s where my interests are. I want the kids to enjoy science and understand how important it is in their lives,” McReynolds said.

She added that she was amazed and “blessed beyond measure” that she won a statewide award.

Debbie Lieb, now retired, was the district’s community liaison specialist, and in charge of the volunteers in the schools. McReynolds said Lieb was instrumental in getting everything submitted.

“It surprised me because I know there are so many other wonderful volunteers in ECISD,” she added.

She got to hear information about each awardee.

“It was interesting to see what volunteers across the state have done to assist their schools,” McReynolds said.

She said there was one volunteer with 50 years of experience. The volunteers did everything from setting up safety exercises in the gym so children could learn to cross the street to helping students get scholarships.

McReynolds said it made her aware that if you have any interest or talent you can use to help teachers, students and staff, it’s worth it.

“You feel like you get back more than you give. … There are so many diverse needs in the school. Blessings just come back to you,” she added.

“… Honestly, it’s not the award it’s the kids, it’s the teachers. … The award is like the cherry on the cake … I would be here anyway. It’s as fun for me as I hope it is for the kids,” McReynolds said.

McReynolds worked in the city’s utility department for 35 years starting out in the lab. When she retired, she was director of utilities.

She earned an associate degree in science from Odessa College, went to Texas Woman’s University for a bachelor’s in biology and while she was working for the city earned a master’s degree in life science from University of Texas Permian Basin.

Hays Principal Paula Dannheim said that is an amazing award. The campus has 40 volunteers, about 18 of whom are very active every day and every week. She added that they can’t do what they do without their support, so they are “extremely happy to have them.”

“… Debbie did a phenomenal job getting that award,” Dannheim said. “A lot of what Debbie provides is a background in science. That’s her strength and so we’ve turned a lot of the science lab, setting up the labs, or sometimes even presenting the science experiment, she gets to lead that. She also helps with the science fair every year, so since science is her strength, that’s where we use her.”

“The kids absolutely love her. She makes it fun for them,” Dannheim added.