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Florida AEM Marian Gilmore, a special education teacher, uses ACE Program to reinforce concepts and engage her students

Posted on April 15, 2022 at 12:28 PM by Virginia Smith

Teacher Mare Gilmore works with student outside on Straw Rocket activity

Florida AEM Marian (Mare) Gilmore is the ACE Coordinator for Silver Sands School in Fort Walton Beach. Silver Sands was the 2019-2020 National ACE School of the Year.

April 14, 2022

Meet Marian (Mare) Gilmore. She teaches science to all grades at Silver Sands School in Fort Walton Beach, Florida. Silver Sands is a special day school for students with significant cognitive, physical and/or behavioral disabilities. The goal at Silver Sands, a Title I school, is to help students become independent and functional members of the community. Students range from pre-K to post-secondary. Their challenges include autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and non-verbal, physical limitations, and some have a combination of these and other conditions. "These students will be some of the bravest and strongest kids you will ever meet," she says. Civil Air Patrol's Aerospace Connections in Education (ACE) Program's hands-on activity approach benefits her students. "My students need a lot of reinforcement to learn and retain concepts," she says. "ACE lessons help me in my classroom to not only provide hands-on lessons for my students but to provide engaging and fun lessons where they gain new knowledge and reinforce concepts we have been teaching." Silver Sands, where she serves as ACE Coordinator, was awarded National ACE School of the Year for 2019-2020, and the next year, she was named National ACE Special Science Teacher of the Year. We asked her some questions about her career, her school and her involvement in CAP, and her answers follow.

Tell us about your current school and your role at the school.

Silver Sands School is a public school in Okaloosa County and is identified as a special day school for students with significant cognitive, physical, and/or behavioral disabilities. Students who are eligible to attend may begin as early as age 3 and stay until they are 22 years old, serving grades Pre-K through Post Graduate. Our goal is to help our students become independent and functional members of the community. We achieve this through years of communication, social, and behavior training in addition to the academic classes that they receive. Once students complete their high school credits, they begin a work-study post graduate program in which they learn appropriate job skills, self-advocacy, and personal care routines. In addition to our population serving the many military families that come through our area, our student demographics also qualify Silver Sands to be a Title I school due to the socio-economic status of our families.

We have about 120 students enrolled in our school, and I have the privilege of teaching Science and running the Green House. I get to teach science to every student here at Silver Sands. Some students use a wheelchair or a feeding tube. Challenges include autism, down syndrome, cerebral palsy and non-verbal, physical limitations and some have a combination of these and other conditions. These students are some of the bravest and strongest kids you will ever meet. 

How many years have you been an educator? Why did you become an educator and what keeps you in the field?

Teacher Mare Gilmore Working with two students

Mare Gilmore enjoys teaching aerospace education because of how engaging the lessons are.

I started teaching after my career as a district manager for a retail company out of Columbus, Ohio. One thing I liked about my job was training and teaching others. I have also taught in the Federal Hocking School district, in Athens, Ohio, for 4 years. I then became the Director of Education at the U.S. Space & Rocket center in Huntsville, Alabama. That is where I met Susan Mallett and Debbie Dahl from  Civil Air Patrol National Headquarters. Susan and Debbie presented hands-on activities with our teachers attending Space Camp for Educators. Susan and Debbie facilitated our teachers on TOP Flights (Teacher Orientation Program Flights). I fell in love with the ACE and AEX lessons instantly. The lessons are easy to understand with their step-by-step instructions. I wasn’t teaching in the classroom at the time but I shared the program with many teachers I met while at the USSRC. I eventually moved back down to my parents in Destin, Florida, as they were getting older. I started to work at Silver Sands in 2014 as a 1:1. I worked with an amazing young man whose smile lights up my world when I see him. He makes the world a better place. This young man is severely autistic, non-verbal, has very low communication skills. He is also funny, sweet and one of the smartest people I have ever met. He overcomes more obstacles in a day then I experience in a year.  After he moved to another school, Silver Sands got a new principal and I wanted to teach, again. The year before I started teaching, I asked my principal if we could become an ACE school, and she said, "yes."  Our school won Civil Air Patrol's National ACE school of the year that year. Principal Stephanie Wheat offered me the science job, the next year, that included running the Green House. Ms. Wheat has been a huge support to me as a science teacher. Winning National ACE school of the Year and being able to bring other science activities to our school has a lot to do with the support of my principal. When I ask Ms. Wheat, “Can we do this?” Ms. Wheat will come back, “Write a Grant!” Even if I don’t have all the money or resources to do it, Ms. Wheat is right there to make sure it happens. 

What is your philosophy of teaching?

I want my classroom to be a classroom where students feel safe and look forward to coming to class. I want to create an environment where students have fun, are engaged and learn in my class. Several students greet me off the bus or in the hallway with a fist bump and say, “Air is matter!” and I respond, “Air takes up space.” That makes me smile. That is why I teach science here at Silver Sands School.  A successful lesson to me is when the student goes home and shares what they learned or did with their friends or family. I want to reinforce and build on the knowledge they know. Hands-on lessons work best with most of my students. One of the things I love about the ACE lessons is how their lessons build on previous lessons and reinforce concepts learned. My students need a lot of reinforcement to learn and retain concepts. ACE lessons help me in my classroom to not only provide hands-on lessons for my students but also to provide engaging and fun lessons where they gain new knowledge and reinforce concepts we have been teaching. I want to provide experiences for my students. In January we had Astronaut Don Thomas come to our school science fair and STEM night. Astronaut Don also visited several schools in our district to share his experiences, knowledge and passion of NASA and aerospace. Marcia Lindstrom, who leads the Strategic Communications Team for NASA’s Space Launch System, spoke to my older students last year about the Artemis mission via Zoom. Astronaut Don Thomas also spoke to all our students last year, via Zoom, about the Mars Helicopter that was landing on Mars at the time. 

Please list honors and wards you have achieved as an educator that you would like to include.

  • National ACE School of the Year for 2019-2020 (ACE Coordinator) 

  • National ACE Special Science Teacher of the Year: 2020-2021

  • Northwest Florida AIAA Techer of the Year 2020-2021

  • In the 2 years I have taught science at Silver Sands, I have written or helped write over $10,000 in grants.

How Long have you been an ACE teacher and why do you participate? Please tell us how the ACE program and materials help your students succeed?

I became an AEM after meeting CAP staff at the USSRC but did not incorporate the lessons until three years ago. I participate because the lessons are great and can be easily incorporated in my classroom. I have a great passion for aerospace education and when I teach about space and aerospace, I get an extra burst of energy, and it spills over to my students. I am lucky I have a very supportive principal that not only loves science but supports me. Two years ago I wanted to do a 2 Day Moon Madness for our students. We did two days of Moon activities in the P.E. and Science/Art periods. We used four lessons from the ACE program including making an astronaut out of a toilet paper roll and the phases of the Moon with the lamp and Styrofoam ball on a pencil. My P.E. teacher and art teacher had no problem teaching the lessons because they are written out with much detail and step-by-step. The materials needed for lessons are easy to find around my classroom or my home; so they are very low-cost to provide for my students, and I have to provide for 120 students. I love that the students get to make and take home many of the things they have created from the ACE lessons. Civil Air Patrol also provides you with materials from one lesson in the grade you teach. All my students get to participate in the ACE lessons, even though they are up to 22 years of age, because of the uniqueness and intellectual abilities of my students. I am very thankful that Susan and (ACE Program Manager) Sue Mercer have allowed our whole school to participate. 

It is so easy to incorporate lessons with the current events going on. Since Artemis is having its test launch this month, we have been learning about the Artemis mission and the rocket that will take us back to the Moon and on to Mars. The past two weeks I have taught the Straw Rocket and Rocket to the Planets lessons. They were so easy to tie into what they were learning and reinforcing what was being taught. There was a lot of excitement launching their rockets. CAP’s programs and products give our students these hands-on activities that make them excited to come to science class. 

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

One reason is I have a passion for aerospace. When I grew up I thought astronauts only worked at NASA -- not realizing all the other cool jobs that are available. I want kids to know about these jobs. I want them to know they can get a job to help us explore other planets, asteroids, our Moon, etc. As Wernher Von Braun said, “Great nations explore!” We are doing great and cool things in the aerospace industry. I want to share that with my kids. Aerospace education is easy to teach across the curriculum. Using ACE materials reinforces that. I taught Rockets to the Planets this week, and we covered current events, math, history, music (we sang the "I’m a Little Rocket" song from straw rockets) and space science. And I could have easily added a writing lesson if I had time. That is what is so great about aerospace education and the ACE lessons. You can tie the lessons so easily into the concepts/ standards you have to teach, and it is exciting, real life things you are talking about. I get excited teaching the ACE lessons, and my kids feel that excitement as well. When my students come to class, they usually come with one to three classroom aides. The adults get excited about the lessons, too. A couple of the aides have said, "If I had had science lessons like this when I was a kid, I would have loved science."  

When we were out for COVID, I was able to make a couple of videos from the ACE lessons. It was fun to be able to have a way to connect with my students with the videos and provide them with an activity that they could do with their family.  My principal even participated in a video. Through the STEM Kit program, we have been able to get a weather station and Sphero robots. The weather station has been great. We do a whole unit on the water cycle, clouds and weather. Many of our students do the morning calendar and talk about the weather that day. The weather station has been a great addition to these lessons and activities. The weather station has allowed our students to learn about humidity, dew point and wind speed with the station.  

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

Take advantage of this amazing program. Not only are the lessons easy to teach and you can incorporate into your classroom easily, but also you can have your principal, parent volunteer or even a high school student that might want to be a teacher come in and teach some lessons. The lessons are presented clearly and easily to understand. You meet so many great people by being a part of the program. When I got my weather station, I needed help setting it up. I reached out to another member that had the station, and they were able to connect me with someone that could help me. Another member and I are planning to have her Space Club work with some of my students on making rockets, even though she is in another state. You will develop relationships with other amazing teachers, industry experts and come away with many resources from CAP and from other members.

Is there anything we didn't ask that you'd like to say? Please tell us anything else you'd like to add for this feature on an AEM. We want to tell your story.

I hope I have answered this in my previous answers, but I wanted to be sure I stated it again because I appreciate so much the lessons and resources CAP provides to my classroom … my school. The lessons/resources make my job easier and help take my units of study to another level. The lessons are written so I can easily adapt to my students. In one class, I could have four or more learning levels, physical abilities and cognitive abilities. It is important that I meet the needs of all my students even though I am teaching the same lesson to the class. I mainly teach ACE lessons, but I often refer to the AEM lessons. I like to gather other information from those lessons and to see how I can add to the lesson for my students that have a different need. Giving my students the experience to work with a weather station and work with Spheros would not have been possible without the generosity and programs at CAP. The program is wonderful for veteran teachers, and I also recommend it to new teachers. I promise you will love the curriculum. If you are afraid to teach science, especially aerospace, you will end up loving to teach it. Wait till you see you students' eyes light up, the smiles on their faces and the "aha" moments! It will be the best $35 you invest in your teaching career.  

I have also used the lessons when my young nieces and nephews and friend’s children come to visit. Launching water bottle rockets and flying gliders is always fun for all. 

Mare Gilmore poses with a student and Astronaut Don Thomas, who was visiting the school

Above, astronaut Don Thomas visits Silver Sands. Below, Principal Stephanie Wheat appears in a video presentation with teacher Mare Gilmore.

Mare Gilmore and her principal stand on a background of a photo of Mars and the Mars rover during a presenation


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