Penny Reynolds wants her students to know before they even register for her culinary arts classes it’s not an easy elective or a place to just sample cuisine.
Her motto is posted prominently in her classroom: “Culinary arts is a career pathway, not a place to eat.”
It was that familiar phrase, read in front of a crowd of 200,000 people last weekend, that tipped her off that she’d been chosen to receive a national award.
“They started to read it off,” she said, “and all at once, I started to go, ‘Oh my god, that’s me.”
Reynolds was presented with the 11th Annual James H. Maynard Excellence in Education Award during the Educator Excellence Awards Dinner in Chicago on May 16. The National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation and Golden Corral present this award, along with a $5,000 cash prize, to two ProStart educators every year for excelling both in and out of the classroom. She was selected from a group of 35 National ProStart Educator winners.
“I am in disbelief still,” she said. “I am in a state of awe. I didn’t think there was a chance at all.”
Her students were less surprised.
“She deserved it,” said Nguyen Pham, 18. “She’s a really great teacher. I felt like giving up my freshman year. When I had her sophomore year, she gave me the skills to open up new opportunities. She’s taught me a lot.”
Reynolds, who started teaching at Carson High School 17 years ago, has been teaching the ProStart curriculum in her culinary arts classes for 12 years. In February, she was named the 2014 ProStart Teacher of the Year by the Nevada Restaurant Association Educational Foundation, which made her a nominee for the national recognition.
“ProStart educators are instrumental in helping students understand how numerous and exciting the career opportunities in the restaurant industry really are, and provide a solid foundation of management and culinary skills to prepare students to enter the workforce,” Rob Gifford, executive vice president for the National Restaurant Association, said in a press release. “We are grateful to all of our ProStart educators, and are pleased to recognize our 2014 Educator of Excellence and James H. Maynard award winners.”
Reynolds said that while the award was personally satisfying, it also validates the community that has supported the program, which doesn’t receive any funding from the school district.
“Without all the community support for our fundraisers and our sponsors, we would never have gotten past the first year,” she said, adding the students have had to raise $40,000 since January to attend competitions where they’ve earned scholarships and other prizes.
“It’s all for the students,” she said. “To see their growth. The opportunities are endless for these kids.”