Penny Reynolds came to Carson High School 17 years ago as a science teacher. She found herself burned out after teaching home economics for 11 years at Eagle Valley Middle School and was looking for something new.
Then-principal Glen Adair approached her about creating a cooking class at the high school. If she was going to do it, she told him, she was going to do it right.
“I told him, ‘Let’s just go for it,’” she said.
With a $250,000 grant from the National Restaurant Association, she had the first ovens installed in 1998.
In 2000, the school opened its own restaurant, which serves lunch four days a week.
Year by year, more items have been added and more services included for her culinary arts students.
“I still sit back and go, ‘Am I really doing what I’m doing’,” she said. “And I still ask, ‘What more can I fit into my day?’ I still do.”
She was named the 2014 ProStart Teacher of the Year by the Nevada Restaurant Association Educational Foundation.
“I love my job,” she said. “I love the kids. That’s why I am here.”
Since starting the program, it has risen to national recognition and is popular among students. Reynolds has no prep period and no lunch break to accommodate the 173 students who want to take her classes. And it’s not because it’s an easy grade.
“They’re learning real job skills,” she said. “We’re not teaching them to flip burgers. They’re learning skills they can use to go on to have a real profession. The career pathway is here.”
Her students have gone on to forge careers in all areas of the industry, she said, and she’s had students work in the culinary arts on every continent.
Reynolds started out in the food industry herself, after earning a degree in food science from Baylor University.
But after working as a bartender and restaurant manager, she realized it was not the career she wanted.
“I decided this is not what I wanted to do,” she said. “I really had the love for teaching.”
She went to the University of Nevada, Reno to receive her teaching credential and is now back at the high school she graduated from in 1979.
Her motivation continues to be the growth of her students.
“All at once, I’ll see a spark in a kid,” she said. “All the pieces come together, and you see the lights go on. That’s what keeps me going.”