Catching the Bug: Local science teacher finds her second career

Published 9:42 am Tuesday, October 25, 2016


A local second career teacher never saw herself in the classroom, but has found the perfect fit in a school where she truly feels at home.

Renée Styles is in her second year as a seventh grade science teacher at the Academy of Innovation.

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“It’s a mix of all kinds of science for them. In the state of Mississippi, you teach a little bit of physics, chemistry, biology and earth and space science,” Styles said.

She is a career scientist who did research at university labs in several states for 16 years, including Rutgers University, the University of Southern Mississippi and the University of South Carolina.

A few years ago as a mother of two, Styles decided to try her hand at teaching.

“I had kids, and I started volunteering in the classroom with my kids at their schools. I just really loved that,” Styles said, adding she also was a Cub Scout leader and an FLL robotics coach. “I decided I was ready for something different and decided to go alternate route to become a teacher.”

She took the alternate route to obtaining her certification because she already had a master’s degree, and the alternate route would get her in the classroom faster. Styles started the program through Mississippi State University in the summer on 2015 and continued to take classes as she started in the classroom that fall with a temporary license at the Academy of Innovation.

“It’s a lot to teach and take graduate classes (at the same time),” Styles said. “It was rough.”

She completed the program this spring and continued with the same class in the same school this school year. Above all else, she is thrilled to be a teacher at the Academy of Innovation and said she feels fortunate to be there.

“This is just a great fit for me, this school. I’m very fortunate that I got in here to do this,” Styles said. “My colleagues are awesome, and they’re excited, and they want to make this a wonderful place. The kids are happy and like to be here. I couldn’t ask for a better place to work.”

She enjoys doing project-based activities with her students, and she said this school really encourages that type of learning environment. Styles especially enjoys the planning stage of activities saying she spends maybe too much time preparing.

“I love planning fun and engaging activities for kids to learn,” Styles said. “It makes science fun and exciting and memorable. For every unit I teach there is a project.”

Currently students are working on a circuit wiring project to learn about electricity where they use wiring and light bulbs in a pizza box to create a matching game, which will cause the bulbs to light.

Once completed, each group has chosen an elementary school classroom where they will donate the device to be used as a game for test review.

“The kids are real excited about it. The teachers are really excited about it, about getting these games in the classroom, and they’re excited to hear from their former students. It’s really been very positive,” Styles said.

The Rochester, N.Y., native earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from State University of New York at Binghamton and a master’s degree in chemical oceanography from Florida Institute of Technology.

She first caught the teaching bug in graduate school when she taught a lab as a teacher’s assistant.

“It was just so much fun. That’s when I got the bug, and I ignored it for 16 years,” Styles said. “I just felt so happy after I would do that.”

Styles’ family moved to Vicksburg in 2010 when her husband got a job with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Engineer Research and Development Center. Her 16-year-old son goes to the Mississippi School for Math and Science, and her 12-year-old son is one of her students at the Academy of Innovation.