George Lucas Educational Foundation
Professional Learning

Celebrity Q&A: Kirsten Vangsness on Volunteering

The television star used to be a teacher — and still volunteers in the classroom.

January 20, 2009

Before Kirsten Vangsness appeared on the Disney Channel's Phil of the Future, before she received the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle's Natalie Schafer Award for emerging comic actress, before her current role as the tech-savvy Penelope Garcia on CBS's Criminal Minds, she was a teacher. She spent nearly seven years in the classroom, subbing in grades K-12 and teaching third grade and kindergarten. These days, she volunteers her time to work with sixth-grade students in a drama workshop at the Bellflower, California, school where her mother teaches.

What is your idea of a perfect teacher?

A passionate student of life who doesn't need to be right and who is at home with the weird.

What was your most memorable school experience?

The first day of drama class in high school.

What was the low point of your school career?

Getting beat up and shoved into a locker after school in the seventh grade. The whole time, I shouted, "I'm a pacifist! I'm a pacifist!" I think it just egged them on.

Did you go to public school, or private school?


Where did you fit in your school's social hierarchy?

I was the sweet freak.

What was your favorite subject?


If you could change one thing about education in America, what would it be?

I would mush up math and science with art and PE. All those creative and kinesthetic learners would suddenly understand integers and chemistry.

What is impossible to learn in school?

Nothing! It's school. Anything you want to learn, you can learn there. I truly know that -- although some of the really great stuff, I learned in the halls.

What should they teach that they don't teach now?

Risk taking, proactive thinking, self-efficacy, and dreams.

What did you learn today?

How to hack a thing on my phone.

What did you teach today?

The order of operations. I call my niece every day and help with her math homework.

What is in your dream lunch box?

A vegetarian submarine sandwich with extra pickles and tomatoes, pomegranate seeds, ice-cold watermelon juice, and a chocolate-pudding cup.

If you wrote a textbook, what would it be called?

No One Is Any More or Less Special/Wounded/Privileged Than You Are, So Just Relax and Figure Out What You Want with Life and Go to It.

If the prom were tomorrow, whom would you take?

My girlfriend, Melanie.

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