15:18 PM

ACE Program Celebrates Start of New Year with ‘Lift-Off’ at Va. School

Civil Air Patrol’s Aerospace Connections in Education (ACE) program for grades K-6 has lifted off for 2019.

Conducted at the Hillsboro Charter Academy in Hillsboro, Virginia, the annual lift-off event turned into a mini-airshow for the students and guests in attendance. Hillsboro Charter Academy was selected as the site for this year’s liftoff after being named the 2018 National CAP ACE School of the Year.

“The passion for aeronautics and the CAP programs is pervasive among our staff, parents and students,” Principal Mark Wertheimer said. “We were thrilled to be recognized as the top 2018 CAP ACE school from all of the 210 schools nationwide.”

Located just steps from the historical marker commemorating the 1831 birthplace of the aviation pioneer Wright brothers’ mother, Susan Koerner Wright, the academy is grooming a new generation of aerospace groundbreakers. The ACE Lift-off event marked recognition for the public school’s innovative STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) curriculum and project-based approach to learning.

The school’s STEAM coordinator, Megan Tucker, was praised for her work as the school’s ACE coordinator. “The work of Mrs. Tucker to lead this school to implement CAP’s ACE and STEM Kit programs has been amazing in past years, and was magnified during the ACE Lift-off event,” said Susan Mallett, CAP National Headquarters education outreach manager. “The involvement of the community has been a tremendous initiative that is paying large dividends for the students.”

Since the school’s inception in 2016, HCA has implemented the ACE program, has integrated aerospace education into the K-5 school’s overall STEAM project-based learning approach and has received frequent visits by both CAP and Air Force Association members. Both CAP and AFA leaders attended the lift-off event to further cement the two organizations’ national STEM education alliance.

Robert Corsi, a member of CAP’s Board of Governors, and Jim Hannam, AFA’s vice chairman of the board/aerospace education, both spoke to the students about their award and the character traits needed to continue to soar in STEM areas, today and in the future.

“This award validates all of the dedication and hard work that has taken place since our public charter opened its doors in 2016,” Tucker said. “The staff and scholars have been exploring, engaging and engineering, not just in aerospace, but in all facets of their day-to-day learning.

“I learned early in my teaching career that if scholars are motivated, they will strive to master any curriculum. The CAP ACE program is rooted in academics through the lens of aerospace — and aviation is the perfect spark to ignite a passion for STEAM,” he said.

Students and teachers flooded the school grounds wearing purple ACE shirts, sponsored by CAP and the AFA. All eyes were on the sky as the program began.

They saw many high-flying aerospace acts, which presented stimulating surprises for the students. The Leesburg Composite Squadron’s cadet color guard posted the colors, and a young student sang the national anthem to start the day’s event. Next, a helicopter landed, allowing the entrance of the CAP ACE mascots – CAPPY the eagle, and Air Bear, along with the Hillsboro mascot, Percy the owl.

The event featured multiple aerial flyovers, including a CAP airplane with the school’s principal in the air talking via radio to the students on the ground. Drone demonstrations flown by professionals and students also excited the children, as did the formation flyover of two Piper Cubs.

Students experienced the burner ignition in a hot air balloon’s basket, as well as the opportunity to go inside the inflated balloon. When the helicopter lifted off for departure, the students also lifted off their individual rotorcraft to officially lift off the 2019 ACE program.

Pilots for the program included CAP’s Lt. Col. Peter Hantelman, flying the principal in a CAP Teacher Orientation Program (TOP) flight (with Lt. Col. Josh Shields serving as ground team and radio communications coordinator); pilot Gary Sgarella, who flew both the helicopter and one of the Piper Cubs; the other Piper Cub pilot, Kirk Wicker; drone pilot Troy Hendrickson; and hot air balloon pilot Amy Goodyear.

The students presented aerospace-themed songs/dance and a rollout of class mission patches for their many guests, which included Corsi and Hannam, Mallett and Sue Mercer from the National Headquarters team, John Swain and Kimberly Frady from CAP’s national congressional team, State Sen. Dick Black, Hillsboro Mayor Roger Vance, Loudoun County Public Schools board member Eric Hornberger and HCA Board of Directors President Ben Lenhart.

There was also a special guest keynote speaker at the school’s morning event – retired U.S. Air Force Col. Mark Hyatt, who spoke about character and integrity. A former fighter pilot who served as adviser to the secretary of defense, Hyatt president of Crosscloud Consulting and founder of the Wings Aerospace Academy charter school program. 

After the morning’s event, HCA students rotated through six different stations based on CAP’s aerospace/STEM programs. Examples of STEM rotations included Spheros, Beebots, Weather (with a meteorologist and green screen), K’Nex Aero Design Challenge, Flight Simulators (full size and remote controlled) and iFLY Loudoun’s Virtual Reality.

Recognized as leaders in education innovation within the Loudoun County Public Schools, the HCA faculty facilitated a CAP ACE/STEM Kits session at last spring’s full-day professional development teacher workshop. “We are hopeful we can encourage more LCPS teachers to become inspired to participate the ACE program in the future,” Tucker said.