Rockwall ISD celebrates return of Health Sciences Instructor following sixth month deployment

ROCKWALL/HEATH, TX (Jan. 19, 2023) Students and staff at the Gene Burton College and Career Academy and members of the Heath Band celebrated the return of a beloved teacher following a six-month deployment to Kuwait with the Air Force Reserves. Master Sergeant Tonja Coykendall, also known as Mrs. Coykendall to Rockwall ISD, returned to a rousing welcome on Thursday.

A Health Sciences instructor and Registered Dental Hygienist, Mrs. Coykendall said it was good to be back because her “passion lies in the classroom” and she is especially excited to give her students the additional hands-on lab experience they have been seeking.

While deployed, Mrs. Coykendall’s commitment to the program back home and her professional development continued. While working 12-hour shifts abroad, she followed her students, graded papers, and stayed in communication with Mrs. Collins, a retired teacher who served as her long-term substitute. During this period, she also completed her White Belt in Lean Six Sigma Management for the district and Green Belt for the Air Force Reserves.

Joining RISD in 2017, she traveled between Rockwall High School and Heath High School teaching several classes. When the GBCCA opened the following year, she furthered the development of the Dental Assistant program which had no formal pathway at that time. Through devotion and hard work, the goal of developing an in-class dental lab became reality. Securing several large grants, this lab now serves 60 students seeking to pursue a career in dentistry. Additionally, today the program collaborates with over a dozen local dental offices to ensure students get true clinic exposure and experience.

Speaking of her first deployment, Mrs. Coykendall said “I knew it would come. It was my time.” Adding that deployment is hardest on those who are left behind. She knows first-hand as her husband, a Rowlett Police Officer also served as an Air Force Reserve Officer. This time it was his turn to take over the busy family schedule for their four children who range from college, high school and elementary grades.

Mrs. Coykendall returns to the classroom full-time next week.

Story and photos by Melanie Mayfield, contributing writer, Blue Ribbon News. 





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