Arizona Teacher of the Year Brings Women and Students of Color into STEM



November 1, 2021; Arizona Teacher of the Year Nancy Parra-Quinlan teaches robotics at Kino Junior High
Megan Mendoza / The Republic

When junior high school teacher Nancy Parra-Quinlan plans lessons for her students, she’s not just trying to get them to meet content knowledge benchmarks. She also looks for the twinkle, the sparkle, the glow that shows that they have not only understood a subject, but are excited about it.

For his flight and space class where students build and launch rockets, this is when they take off.

“Just looking at their faces, the excitement – your eyes are on them,” Parra-Quinlan said.

Parra-Quinlan teaches objectively interesting subjects: engineering, robotics, flight and space and even a course in medical detective. But that’s not what makes Parra-Quinlan, who was named Arizona Teacher of the Year 2022 this fall, a great educator.

From creating engaging lessons to building real, lasting relationships with Kino Junior High School students in Mesa Public Schools as a teacher and club mentor, Parra-Quinlan’s approach to teaching is part of a long-term effort to help more women and students of color enter the STEM field.

She also volunteers in the industry. Parra-Quinlan volunteers with the Civil Air Patrol as Deputy Director of Statewide Aerospace Education and with the 305th Squadron at Falcon Field in Mesa as the Aerospace Education Officer.

For his students, it has been a constant space of admiration.

“She’s smart and she does a lot more than most men can,” said Jaya Myers, her 7th grade student. “She’s a really powerful image of what women can be.”

Amid the pandemic, a new approach to reach distant students

For Parra-Quinlan, connecting with his students through hands-on activities has always been one of the most important parts of his teaching practice.

“They stand, they talk, they move, they build, they interact,” Parra-Quinlan said of her typical classroom environment.

This means that when a student is not involved it can be easy to see. “If I see them sitting down, I tell them, ‘Hey, you’re not doing what you’re supposed to do. Go work with your partner, go work with your team.

But when COVID-19 closed schools and working-class families of color were hit particularly hard, she faced a new set of challenges as an educator.

At Kino Junior High School, a Title 1 school with a high concentration of low-income students and where 75% of the students are Latinos, according to the Arizona report card, many students in Parra-Quinlan chose the distance learning last year.

This made the practical part of learning robotics and science particularly difficult.

But Parra-Quinlan didn’t let that stop him. When it was time for her students to learn how to dissect a sheep’s brain, she toured the homes of distant students and deposited a brain for each of them.

“We kind of made it like a ding-dong ditch. We would leave him at the front door, ring the bell, and then walk back, ”she said. “It was great that they actually got to participate.”

“If I can give them this, after it’s been such a difficult year and a half, if I can just give them a little hands-on exploration, it’s going to make them feel a lot better.”

Two of Parra-Quinlan’s students, a current and a former, praise his pedagogical approach, which they say the challenges and support them in equal measure.

Myers, a 7th grade student at Kino, calls her teacher a practical educator who works hard to make sure students pay attention and feel cared for.

“The kids who aren’t listening or paying attention – she’ll make them pay attention,” Myers said. “It makes it an easier learning environment without all of these distractions. ”

Hannah Pehl, who had Parra-Quinlan as a college teacher and robotics club mentor, said she wouldn’t study mechanical engineering in college without her support.

“He’s a great and amazing person. She really cares about everyone, ”said Pehl, whose younger sister was also in Kino’s robotics club. “If someone is late she will work and help them out, but if you are early she will also give you extra things to do so you can learn more.”

Advice for 28 years as an educator

November 1, 2021;  Arizona Teacher of the Year Nancy Parra-Quinlan in her class at Kino Junior High
November 1, 2021; Arizona Teacher of the Year Nancy Parra-Quinlan in her class at Kino Junior High
Megan Mendoza / The Republic

Arizona has a high teacher turnover rate and a chronic shortage of educators. Add to that the difficulty of the pandemic years for teachers, many of whom first had to learn to teach remotely and then return to the classroom as the virus raged and are now under pressure to fill in student learning gaps. .

This is one of the reasons Parra-Quinlan says she is determined to use her time as Arizona Teacher of the Year, which offers a chance to travel and a new platform, to remind people have the hard work of being an educator.

“I want to thank all those teachers who bring home work with them to grade, who spend nights and weekends preparing for lessons, who buy things for students out of their own pockets,” Parra said. -Quinlan by accepting his award in 2022. Teacher of the year ceremony in Arizona. “You all deserve recognition. “

As a seasoned educator for 28 years, Parra-Quinlan suggests that teachers find a community that understands the challenges of their work and can support them.

“Find the teachers in your school, or find other people you know who are teachers, and surround yourself with people you can talk to, people with whom you can let off steam, people with whom you can share. your ideas, ”she said. For herself, she also goes kayaking as a form of stress relief.

Still, Parra-Quinlan wants to remind everyone that there is a teacher in their life they can thank.

“We all have a teacher who matters to us,” she said. “Teachers don’t get a lot of recognition for what they do. So I would like to ask you if, when you have a little time, think of a teacher who has made a difference for you and do what you can to try to contact them either by email, letter, or by telephone. call or something to thank them, you know, make an impression on you.

Contact the reporter at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @yanazure.

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