Debbie and Education


Debbie’s journey as a professional educator began at Betty Hill Dance as she assisted her mother in teaching younger students. By the time Debbie was in high school she had started teaching classes on her own.

Debbie was chosen as a student in the first full-inclusion gifted program in the Des Moines Schools as a fourth and fifth grader. This profoundly affected her view of education, realizing that there are times when students must be ability grouped for optimal educational advancement. It also sparked Debbie’s lifelong interest in gifted education.

Debbie attended Valley High School in West Des Moines, graduating with honors.  She took every advanced academic class offered at the time, including three years of Latin.

Debbie also participated in a range of activities including Marching Band, Student Council, and Homecoming Court.

Debbie built friendships, "cracked the books" in her college-prep course schedule, and added leadership experiences to her "dance card."

This gave Debbie a grounded understanding of "the high school experience."

Debbie attended the University of Northern Iowa and majored in English with certification in secondary education, graduating with high honors.

Debbie participated in modern dance, student government, and was a residence hall counselor. 

Debbie's leadership experiences made her realize that she enjoyed mentoring young people.  This influenced her choice of a major and her decision to get a teaching degree.

One of Debbie’s most valuable educational experiences was as a college junior and senior.  She was selected as a Freshman Composition Grader for Charles Wheeler, UNI English professor and textbook author.

Wheeler was brilliant in teaching writers how to communicate with their audiences directly, clearly, and colorfully. 

Wheeler’s core belief was that “clear writing is simply clear thinking.” This had a significant impact on Debbie as a writer, a thinker, and a person.

As one of Wheeler’s protégés, Debbie learned how to apply his insight in understanding “the audience.”

Debbie was fortunate to student teach at the University of Northern Iowa’s Research and Development School, a progressive and experimentally-based school founded in 1953 as part of the University’s College of Education.

This student teaching assignment was considered one of the university's most demanding--a "make or break" challenge.

Debbie thrived under her three supervising teachers, English Professors Howard VanderBeek, Ken Butzier, and Judy Beckman.

With their mentorship Debbie taught language arts, speech, and Shakespeare to seventh, ninth, and twelfth graders. Debbie extended her training with advanced student teaching at the same school.

One of the significant educational principles Debbie learned from this experience is that as over time, high teacher quality actually increases the range and gap in student proficiency—contrary to popular opinion.

Debbie applies this concept to our studios by offering an increasing range of classes as our students get older.

After graduating from college Debbie taught eighth grade language arts for two years at Holmes Junior High School in Cedar Falls, serving as the newspaper sponsor and developing innovative programs to reach the full range of learners in her diverse student population.

Debbie then became the director of CORE, a program for students who need differentiated instruction for their unique learning profiles.

This experience gave Debbie a deeper understanding of how to develop curriculum with the breadth and depth that will support a variety of students.

During this time Debbie extended her knowledge by taking graduate classes in grading and evaluation.

Debbie also completed the training to become a Probation Officer Aide with Black Hawk County. This experience further equipped her to view students as individuals and to look at “the whole child.”

While teaching junior high Debbie joined with two colleagues to lead students on three boundary water canoe trips.

The expedition literally "lived" on the Big Fork River for five days, with no connection to civilization or modern conveniences.

They pitched their tents at night, cooked freeze-dried food, portaged their canoes around Little American Falls, and navigated their share of rough waters.

Debbie had taken one-day canoe trips with her family on the Upper Iowa River and loved to canoe but had never camped before.

This put her out of her comfort zone, and she loved it, gaining a new appreciation for the rigors of our ancestors' life and the convenience of modern civilization.

These trips also helped Debbie learn new methods of team-building and educational leadership.

Debbie returned to Des Moines, teaching writing and individualized reading at Valley High School three years.

She pioneered strategies to meet the needs of diverse high school writers, developing her own materials to assess, teach, and then measure the success of her students.

Debbie drew on her education and theatrical experience in order to stimulate student creativity and motivation.

She thought “out of the box” to bring her students fresh inspiration and assignments, yet maintained “best practices” in English education.

Debbie was recruited by Richard Peebler, Dean of the College of Business at Drake University, and the parent of one of her students.

She received a full fellowship (scholarship) in the MBA program at Drake University, with the hope that she would then teach at Drake after receiving her graduate degree.

Debbie graduated first in her class with a 4.0 grade point.

Debbie then taught marketing, retailing, and general business for six years, bringing her education background and creativity to a new demographic of students.

Debbie’s education and experience at Drake gave her the acumen to navigate the business world.

Debbie said “no” to the life of a corporate executive and returned to her roots, becoming director and owner of our studios and combining her passions for dance and education with her expertise in business.

Because of Debbie's combination of teaching experience, teacher certification, and graduate work she was awarded a permanent teaching license with the State of Iowa in 1985.

She is certified by the Iowa Department of Education to teach all 7th and 8th grade academic subjects, all English and Language Arts classes grades 5 through 12, and all business classes grades 5 through 12.

When Debbie’s son entered kindergarten, she found herself thrust back into the world of gifted education.

She completed the workshop for parents in Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted, became the Gifted Children’s Coordinator for the Central Iowa Mensa, and attended numerous workshops and conventions on gifted programming.


As Debbie expanded her awareness of unique student profiles, she extensively researched “The Twice-Exceptional Learner,” one who is both gifted and is exceptional in another aspect.

Debbie traveled to the world-known Gifted Development Center in Denver and consulted with Dr. Linda Silverman, giftedness pioneer.

These experiences furthered Debbie’s sensitivity to the full range of student abilities, recognizing that there are multiple methods by which to group students effectively.

Debbie uses this knowledge in her development of classes, curriculum, and choreography—essential components of our studio and elements that set us apart from others.

Debbie’s son was chosen as one of 65 participants in the Javits Twice Exceptional Study at the Belin Blank Gifted Center at the University of Iowa, and Debbie was fortunate to consult with their directors.

Debbie also met with several nationally respected experts in the gifted community in an effort to further understand her son, herself, and the talented students that come her way.


One of Debbie’s most profound experiences in developing as a master teacher was her graduate work and participation in the Leonard Bernstein Artful Learning Method.

This approach is an arts-based school reform model held for three summers for the West Des Moines Schools and sponsored by the Grammy Foundation.

Bernstein was not merely a musical genius, but a brilliant educator and active world citizen.

Bernstein believed that all learners are artists, teachers, and scholars, and that we need to help students embrace all three of these roles.

 Debbie had long believed that the role of a teacher is to light the flames of enthusiasm and passion in students.  Her educational philosophy was so akin to Bernstein's that she immediately felt “at home” with his teachings.

Bernstein wrote that as learners we can only gain knowledge about one discipline by viewing it through the lens of another.

This respect for diversity has guided Debbie in her continuing efforts to give our students a rich, diverse, and deep set of experiences.

The Bernstein Method, as well as Twice-Exceptional Training, both emphasize the importance of “VAK”—visual, auditory, and kinesthetic modes of learning for all students.

Dance is one of the few activities that emphasizes all three modes of learning.  Students see the teachers and demonstrators doing the movements.  They hear the class "chant" the steps and the music.  They do the steps, involving their entire bodies in the movement.

This allows dance students to use their strongest mode of learning, yet build strength in their other two modes.  Dance is a win-win-win for the learner.

Debbie applies these educational principals as she teaches, as well as providing training for her faculty in the best methods in education.

Debbie has learned the perspectives and skill set of a professional educator, and she now uses this wealth of information as the leader of our studios.

Like the administrator of a school or district, she designs classes and curricula, she creates materials for our teachers, and she designs the music, costuming, and choreography for our dancers to perform.

Debbie bases much of what we do with the public schools as an example, both because this is a familiar reference for our students and parents, and because she wants our studios to have the credibility of a professional school.

It all comes back to our kids!

Read about Debbie and Business.

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