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Alabama AEM Kelli Jo Wilson, National ACE Teacher of the Year, is fulfilling a dream to inspire youth

Posted on January 10, 2022 at 4:35 PM by Virginia Smith

Portrait of teacher Kelli Jo Williams in her classroom

Kelli Jo Wilson, a 7th grade life science teacher at Holtville Middle School in Deatsville, Alabama, became a teacher because she wanted to work with and inspire youth.

January 10, 2022

Meet Kelli Jo Wilson, who teaches at Holtville Middle School in Deatsville, Alabama. After beginning her career as a 5th-grade science/social studies teacher, she now teaches 7th grade life science. Since becoming an Aerospace Education Member (AEM) in 2015, she has participated in Civil Air Patrol's Aerospace Connections in Education Program each year and this past year was named National ACE Teacher of the Year. In addition, she participates in CAP's ACE Plus Adopt program, which connects local squadrons to classrooms. Her class has been adopted by the Maxwell Composite Squadron. In order to fulfill a dream of working with children, she became a teacher 17 years ago, and she has a passion for teaching science. "I love for students to realize that science is all around them," she says. She became a CAP AEM after a fellow teacher introduced her to CAP's programs. She says she and her students are fans of the hands-on ACE program, which she features in class at least once a week. "This has helped my attendance because the students get really upset if they miss an ACE Day," she says. We asked her some questions about teaching and her involvement with Civil Air Patrol. Her answers follow.   

Tell us about your current school.

I teach at Holtville Middle School (Elmore County Board of Education) in Deatsville, Alabama. We are a public Title I school. In the school we currently have more than 500 5th- through 8th-graders. I have always been a 5th grade Science/Social Studies teacher up until September 13, 2021. At that time I was given the opportunity to teach 7th grade Life Science. Science is my true passion, and I love Life Science; so I said yes. I also am the site director for Holtville Middle School's 21st Century Community Learning Center Program. I have been involved in this program since 2007. [Editor's note: This program is a federal program that supports the creation of community learning centers that provide academic enrichment opportunities for children during non-school hours.]  

How many years have you been an educator, and what keeps you in the field? 

I have been an educator for 17 years. I became an educator because I always knew I wanted to work with children in some compacity, and becoming a teacher, I knew I would be able to fulfill my dream. I have always had a love for learning, so I knew at a young age that I wanted to be a teacher. Kids inspire me just as much as I hope I inspire them.  

What is your philosophy of teaching?

My philosophy of teaching is quite simple actually -- I want students to learn through hands-on activities.   

Please list awards/honors/achievements you have received as an educator that you would like to include.

  • Civil Air Patrol's National Aerospace Connections in Education (ACE) Teacher of the Year (2021)

  • Holtville Middle School Teacher of the Year (2016)

  • I have just completed my National STEM Certification through the National Institute for STEM Education.

Congratulations on your ACE award. Tell us how long you have been an ACE teacher and why you participate? What benefits do your students get from the ACE program?

After being a part of Civil Air Patrol and teaching ACE lessons since 2015, I have worked with countless students allowing them the possibility to learn through fun and engaging hands-on activities. Each year I start by giving my students the pre-test. We used to have a set date to do our ACE lessons, but the last couple of years have been challenging with the effects of protocols, so my ACE lessons are once a week, just not on a set schedule.

This has helped my attendance because the students get really upset if they miss an ACE Day. The balsa power plane kits (the 5th-grade ACE educational item that goes to each student) get us started every year. This is a great way for me to get the students to start asking questions and making predictions. You would think this would come naturally, but it does not, and it takes time for the students to feel comfortable making a prediction that could possibly be wrong. My favorite ACE lesson is Astrospud Spacesuit Design Challenge. This lasts for several days as I teach this lesson along with the Engineering Design Process because it goes perfectly together. Each year, I strive to teach every ACE lesson.  

Tell us about your involvement with the ACE Plus classroom adoption program and how that came to be. What benefits does that connection with a squadron provide for your students?   

All of my classes were adopted by Maxwell Composite Squadron. We have met a new friend because of this opportunity. Retired Lt. Col. Dave Howard of Maxwell Composite Squadron is coming into the classroom to teach my students. Not only do the students look forward to our weekly ACE lessons, but they now look forward to “Mr. Dave” and all of his wisdom.   

A senior member from the Maxwell Composite Squadron works with students in Ms. Wilson's classroom
The Maxwell Composite Squadron has worked with Kelli Jo Wilson's classes through the ACE Plus program

Please describe any other Civil Air Patrol education programs you participate in and why you participate.

I have also used the STEM kits for several years as well. We have done Hydraulics, Rockets, Snaptricity, Sphero and the Weather Station

How did you get involved in the Civil Air Patrol AEM program? 

In 2015, my pair teacher was using Civil Air Patrol's materials and programs, and I wanted to use them as well.  

Why do you teach in the Aerospace Education/STEM area?

I love to use hands-on activities in my classrooms. I love for students to realize that science is all around them.  

What do your students like about Civil Air Patrol programs/materials?

My students love to come to school because they know that we will be doing something different with every ACE lesson. The programs are easy for the students to understand, and the fact that they are hands-on is a bonus.  

What is the best advice you have for a new AEM working with CAP programs and materials?  

USE THE MATERIALS. Follow through with all the lessons for an entire school year, and I promise you will fall in love with the programs the same way I did.  

Please tell an anecdote of a rewarding experience you have had working with students or colleagues using CAP programs.

Years ago I had a special education student. I had ordered the rockets [Rocketry STEM kit] through the STEM Kit Program, and I was a little intimidated by them. I was in my room during my planning period reading the directions and putting this rocket together when this particular student walked into my room and sat down beside me and started to put this rocket together. Because of this, I asked his other teachers if he could stay with me one day and be my assistant when I taught rocketry and put them together. His confidence level grew through the roof. His mom told me that he had never been given the opportunity to work with his hands, and he realized he was good at it.  At the end of the year, he gave me a note that said, "Thank You."  We bonded over a STEM kit and he flourished in the years to come.  

Is there anything we didn't ask that you'd like to say? We want to tell your story.   

I am so glad that I took a chance and joined Civil Air Patrol in 2015. ACE has provided me with lessons that are adaptable and such an innovative approach to teaching. 

Two students are outside the school preparing to fly their balsa model airplanes A group of students prepares to fly their model planes outside the school

ACE teacher Kelli Jo Wilson says that learning with the balsa power planes that 5th grade ACE classes receive is a great way for students to learn to make predictions in science class.


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