Heritage Middle School teacher lands job with NASA

Earth as seen from Apollo 17 in 1970. Photo provided by NASA.

NEW WINDSOR – Aileen Toback, a New Windsor native and 22-year veteran science teacher at Heritage Middle School in her hometown has been named an Educational Ambassador for NASA.  Landing the position of a lifetime was not an easy task, according to Ms. Toback.

In 2019 NASA sought applications from educators for a position researching climate change.  Toback applied for the spot and was informed, after submitting paperwork, that the position was not available.  The self-proclaimed “science-geek” was not done with NASA. Toback’s passion and knowledge of science impressed the NASA staff that met with her so much that they offered Toback a coveted spot as an Educational Ambassador for the NASA Climate Change Research Initiative program.  NASA officials also tagged Toback to be a liaison for the Goddard Space Flight Center Office of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) Engagement at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in NYC.

Toback called the additional workload “A dream come true that I never imagined.”  The mother of two has taken the added workload in stride, adding online meetings with NASA to her COVID-19 altered teaching duties.  Toback’s meetings with NASA are helping to establish a research program that incorporates her students to act as science researchers.

Aileen Toback in her classroom at HMS.

Toback’s interest in climate change was expanded when the teacher enlisted students to participate in a “Snowflake Classification” program on a platform designed by NASA.  NASA has been collecting snowflake data recently and has considered it a valuable tool in assessing climate change.  Snowflake data collected by Toback’s young researchers were transmitted to NASA to supplement their research.  “Since college, climate change has been a primary concern and passion of mine. So many misconceptions exist that they only interfere with a positive advancement in environmental change. I truly believe that the way to combat this is through education.  A true understanding of our ecological imprint, allowing our children to understand their ability to affect change, that is the ultimate goal. I am just so lucky to work with an amazing group of science educators at Heritage!  Education like this takes a team, and I have the best,” said Toback.

Toback has received praise for her teaching, research, and enthusiasm from a multitude of sources.  Nina Schutzman’s son AJ is a student of Toback’s.  “Her enthusiasm is contagious and she makes science fun for the kids. When the schools were still open, my son came home all excited because she had them dissect a chicken wing and showed them how to make it ‘wave.’ Even with the schools closed, she still thinks up interesting projects to assign,” said Schutzman of Ms. Toback.  Matthew Pearce, Educational Program Specialist for NASA praised Toback, calling her a “Superior, dedicated, and passionate educator.”  Newburgh City School District Superintendent Dr. Roberto Padilla also praised the science teacher, saying “Ms. Toback is the epitome of a lifelong learner. Her desire to continuously seek opportunities for professional growth and enhanced knowledge in her area of expertise is invaluable. The fact that she then passes that insatiable drive on to the scholars in her classroom and her colleagues throughout the district exemplifies our Goldback Standard.”

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