16:19 PM

Civil Air Patrol ACEs Program for Youth

STEM Resources Excite Educators

By Sheila Pursglove
Contributing Writer

From CAP Volunteer

Sixth-graders launching straw rockets with kindergarteners and conducting satellite topography.Fifth-grade students graphing the stars and testing the forces of flight in a wind tunnel. Second-graders doing micro-gravity physical fitness training. Fourth-graders teaching first-graders about air with parachutes, balloons and kites. Third-grade students designing a space station …

These hands-on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) experiences are an integral part of CAP’s ACE classrooms throughout the nation.

As a result, the Aerospace Connections in Education program has grown by leaps and bounds since its inception in 2007 as an educational outreach initiative.

ACE for aces

“ACE symbolizes what our nation wants for future citizenry: to become the best of the best — aces,” said Suzanne Mercer, ACE program manager at CAP National Headquarters.

“The need for schools to focus on STEM is guiding teachers to search for credible and relevant programs they easily integrate in their educational program,” said Mercer, who credits this demand for the ACE program’s steady growth.

First Lt. Tony Vining, a CAP squadron commander and aerospace education officer, or AEO, with the Indiana Wing’s Fort Wayne Composite Squadron, is a weekly volunteer teacher at St. Aloysius Catholic School in Yoder, Indiana, the ACE program’s 2016 School of the Year and home to the 2016 Student of the Year.

“I was familiar with ACE, and when the principal approached me about CAP volunteering at the school, I pitched the program to her,” Vining said. “She was immediately excited, and we implemented it starting in 2014.”

Honored as the 2016 ACE Teacher of the Year, Vining appreciates the hands-on opportunities. “I can easily teach students about how an airplane or rocket works, but when they launch Fizzy Rockets and fly their gliders, they see concepts in action,” he said.

“Whenever I get out my ‘Hands-On’ box, the students light up because they know it’s going to be a great day!”

Vining recently enjoyed a proud moment when he walked by a third and fourth-grade class learning about space. When a third-grader named the planets, and the teacher asked where he had learned that, the boy replied, “Lt. Vining taught that in ACE class!” Vining also introduces CAP cadets to the students and tells them how they can become cadets when they get older.

Dr. Rossana Chiarella said adapting the ACE program into the regular curriculum fills lessons with excitement.

Chiarella, a CAP aerospace education member since 2014, is an S-STEM Club coach and Space Foundation teacher liaison officer at Palm Springs North Elementary in Hialeah, Florida.

“Students’ reinforced interest and achievements are the best reward,” she said.

Teachers and parents join in outdoor activities, such as launching rockets, with the support of CAP Opa-Locka Cadet Squadron 464 and enjoy lectures at monthly Parents’ Nights.

Chiarella, who recently received a Hispanic Elementary Excellence in Education Award from the state of Florida, recalled a two-year student in the Space STEM club who plans to join a CAP squadron — and eventually become a pilot. “What better success story is that for the future of CAP youth development programs — and the workforce of tomorrow?” she asked.

Fifth-grade teacher Brian Johnston at Friendship Elementary School in Buford, Georgia, learned about CAP’s AE program when his children joined CAP in 2015. He then joined as a squadron AEO and learned about the K-12th grade aerospace education member program, which includes the free ACE and STEM Kit programs.

Free programs

“When I tell teachers about CAP’s free programs for educators, they’re amazed this is out there and they’ve never heard of it,” Johnston said.

“Teachers spend a lot of personal money to supplement lessons, but with CAP’s programs they’re able to integrate exciting STEM kits and curriculum they could never afford on their own.” Johnston introduced the ACE program to his entire school this year, and every child is able to participate.

A CAP educator as well as AEO and deputy commander of cadets for the Georgia Wing’s Barrow-Jackson Composite Squadron who also has taught AE classes at wing encampments, Johnston receives positive feedback from parents of children both in CAP and in school. “They are pleased to see their children learning innovative concepts, like programming,” he said.

In 2011 an elementary school in Minnesota’s Anoka Hennepin School District became University Avenue Aerospace Children’s Engineering and Science Elementary, a/k/a University Avenue ACES. All K-5 teachers are CAP ACE instructors. “This has resulted in pretty neat experiences, like CAP teacher flights and valuable additional STEM resources,” said Kate Watson, curriculum integration coordinator and CAP’s 2014 National ACE Coordinator of the Year.

Each grade level has its own area of exploration, such as aviation, aerospace engineering and experimental aircraft, and each is supported by local volunteer subject-matter experts and the wide array of lessons and STEM materials provided by CAP.

The ACE program provides a solid foundation and road map, Watson said. “The cross-curricular, interactive lessons are a great way to reinforce skills and fit well with grade-level curriculum standards,” she said.

“The lessons are well laid out and integrate both physical fitness and character education lessons with the academic content.

“It’s not always easy to find the “It’s not always easy to find the right programs and associated professional development for a K-5 aerospace school. We’re so thankful and appreciative to CAP and the ACE program for not only giving us amazing free resources, but also lending support when we have questions or need guidance. CAP has helped our school reach out to other local resources to enrich our aerospace program.”

Since the Air Force Association is the presenting sponsor for the ACE program throughout the nation, CAP connected the University Avenue School to the local AFA Rawlings Chapter, which donated colorful CAP/AFA ACE shirts to the school and provided speakers for a special ACE award day.

“In the thank-you notes written to the AFA, a fourth-grade girl wrote: ‘Thank you for the shirt. Now I feel like I belong,’” Watson said. “I don’t think a day goes by when at least a few students, or staff, aren’t proudly wearing their ACE shirts.”

ACE Days

CAP and AFA representatives participate in three special “ACE Days” each year. Cadets and senior members from the local CAP squadron visit the school, help with airport field trips and host a picnic to give teachers a firsthand look at new aerospace activities and opportunities for their upper-grade students.

Last year, Home Depot donated wooden airplane building kits to second-graders. “If you can imagine over 100 8-year-olds hammering together planes in their ACE shirts, it was quite an experience!” Watson said.

This year’s aerospace events include presentations from meteorologist Belinda Jensen; a Black Hawk pilot; the Raptor Center with an eagle and a hawk; Mad Science; the Jackson Middle School Observatory; wearable technology; a navigator from the 133rd Airlift Wing Minnesota Air National Guard; and pilot Chuck Datko, who flies and organizes T-6 Thunder flyovers and who worked on NASA’s Apollo missions.

What makes these schools standout as stellar examples of the efficacy of the ACE program for the over 25,000 ACE students nationwide?


What is contributing to the impressive annual growth of the ACE program?


What invigorates over 90 percent of ACE teachers to continue the program?


The “ACE is high” due to the dedicated work of a credible, collaborative, cooperative team of educators, CAP members and AFA chapters across the nation. Together, each does accomplish more!