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STEM Teacher Award recipient tells about what guides her
by Nancy Grindle Correspondent · February 8th, 2018

After Cassidy Reinken received the STEM Teacher Award, she graciously agreed to an interview. This is the first of a two-part series about her background and her work.

The STEM award honored Cassidy for representing I.O.W.A. in these ways:

I - being innovative in her methods

O - being outstanding in her passion for education

W - being worldly in the way she helps students see that STEM is all around them

A - being academic, in other words, engaging students in the classroom (and their teachers) to prepare them for higher education and high-demand careers

Cassidy has all of these attributes. What people and paths did Cassidy take to get to this point in her life?

Cassidy's Childhood

Cassidy grew up in Cedar Rapids - in the Linn-Mar School District. She spent a lot of her time during her childhood swimming, dancing and creating.

It seems Cassidy was destined to be a teacher. She noted, "My mother was the art teacher at Bowman Woods for 22 years. I remember spending hours at school on the weekend with her, making art while she worked. When I wasn't with my mom at school, I was playing school in the basement."

Cassidy next told about many of the people who influenced her life and how they did so. "I've always had a love for learning. In elementary school, I remember my second-grade teacher Mrs. Nelson being very kind." (Mrs. Nelson is now president of the L-M school board.)

"Of course my art teacher (my mom) was a huge inspiration to me.

"In middle school, I remember my sixth grade teacher, Mr. Herdliska (now Solon Middle School Principal), and how he made learning fun.

"In high school, my Spanish teacher, Mrs. Diebner, inspired me because she brought learning to life through projects.

"At Luther, my art history professor, Richard Merritt, inspired me because he never gave up on me when art history and writing were hard for me.

"Kate Martinson was my art education professor, and she brought to life my love for art education when I was a 19-year-old who was in denial that I was becoming my mom.

"At Morningside, my professor Keith Stamp encouraged me and inspired me by his knowledge and excitement for learning.

"At Drake, my professor Randal Peters inspired me with his gentle nature and ability to provide extensive feedback. My professor Dr. Doug Stillwell ignited a passion inside me for systems thinking, and my professor Jimmy Casas taught me the power of connectivity and relationships.

"My principal at Roosevelt, Autumn Pino, inspired a love for innovation and taking risks.

"My mentor, Dr. Trace Pickering, who is leading the learner-centered charge locally and nationally, inspires me to continue to push toward learner-centered education.

"Last but not least, my current principal at Johnson STEAM Academy, Candace Lynch, influences me on a daily basis to assume positive intent, to take risks, and model collaborative leadership, all of which make an outstanding culture and climate at Johnson STEAM Academy."

Education Background

Cassidy noted that "apparently, a small community is where I thrive."

She explained further: "My sophomore year we moved to Mount Vernon. While we loved living in Cedar Rapids, a smaller community and school district appealed to my family.

"I graduated from Mount Vernon and enrolled in the University of Iowa. Much like my high school career, I ended up transferring to Luther College my sophomore year. I graduated from Luther in 2005 with an art major and K-12 art education major. I followed my mother by becoming an art teacher.

"For a number of years, I was an art teacher in the Cedar Rapids Community School District. During this time, I continued my education by getting a Master's degree from Morningside College in education, earned my National Board Certification in art education, and a second Master's degree from Drake in Educational Leadership."

Education - Change

in Philosophy

"Lifelong learning and leadership has always been a part of my life. My free time was spent reflecting and sharing my practice as an art teacher as a writer, graduate instructor and designer of graduate courses for The Art of Education.

"After becoming a Nationally Board Certified Teacher (NBCT), my pedagogy changed. My paradigm transformed from school-centered to learner-centered. I implemented a choice-based art studio in my middle school art studio at Roosevelt and saw how empowered students were when they had choice and voice, and learning was aligned to their passions and strengths.

"I knew I wanted to support other teachers in creating learner-centered environments and experiences for their students.

"In addition, during this time I became a mother, and my desire to transform education for my own children created and continues to create a sense of urgency. My children and husband inspire me on a daily basis."

Cassidy explained how the magnet coordinator position has affected her life: "When the magnet coordinator position opened, it was of interest for me because of its opportunity to allow me to support a system-wide shift to learner-centered. In addition, it combined my strengths in art education (from my mom) with my expertise in business (from my dad)."

In the second and final part of Cassidy's story, we will share with you her thoughts about the rewards she has discovered and what she wants to do in the future. She also has a wonderful tribute to her colleagues. Join us next week.
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