10:49 AM

Idaho Teacher Honored as National CAP Aerospace Educator of the Year

Chris Naccarato, a fifth-grade teacher at Priest River Elementary School in Priest River, Idaho, has been selected as Civil Air Patrol’s 2019 National Civil Air Patrol Aerospace Educator of the Year.

As Naccarato was unable to attend CAP’s National Conference last month in Baltimore, he was presented with the award Sept. 20 at his school with the entire student body in attendance. The audience also included Naccarato's fellow Washington Wing members; the wing’s director of aerospace education, Maj. Sylvie Kacmarcik; and Lt .Col. Clay Shepherd, communications officer.for the wing's Deer Park Composite Squadron.

In addition to his role as a classroom educator, Naccarato is the aerospace education officer for the Deer Park squadron and holds the CAP rank of captain. Both positions allow him to promote aerospace and STEM (science, technology, education and math) education with passion and enthusiasm.

In his classroom, Priest River Elementary Principal Connie Kimble said Naccarato consistently emphasizes science and aerospace components as integral parts of his instructional strategy.

He brings his classroom alive with aviation-related lessons and after-school programs, even writing a successful grant application last year that brought the world record holder for paper airplane flight distance, John Collins, from central California, to the small rural school to engage the entire student body for a day focused on aerospace education.

Complementing that event was a Veterans Day recognition program presented to demonstrate Naccarato’s focus on educating the total child. “His ability to develop special events focused on the industry is one of his strongest points as an educator,” Kimble said.

Bringing aerospace to life has been a concept near and dear to Naccarato’s heart for more than 25 years. Students in small, rural Priest River rarely enjoy the opportunities available to their counterparts in urban areas, so Naccarato brings the experiences to the students.

He works diligently each year to acquire funding to bring an accomplished astronaut to the little school in Idaho to meet and interact with the children. May marked 28 years of such visits.

Someone once told Naccarato he would never get an astronaut to his classroom. Nearly three decades later, he has hosted astronauts representing every major NASA human space flight program, from Mercury through the International Space Station and from all over the world, including a Russian cosmonaut.

The entire school eagerly anticipates the end-of-year visits from such astronauts as Scott Carpenter, Charlie Duke, Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger and Barbara Morgan.

Retired U.S. Navy Capt. John Phillips, a former NASA astronaut and one-time CAP cadet, has visited the school at least 10 times in the last several years. Phillips is very impressed with Naccarato’s campaign to use space flight as a consistent theme in teaching traditional math and science subjects.

After a year of demanding expectations in the classroom, Naccarato organizes the students into teams corresponding to NASA Launch and Mission Control for real-life space missions. The students earn the opportunity to build and launch rockets.

He organizes these events for both his students and the CAP cadets in his squadron. Youth learn all aspects of the principles behind the programs – safety aspects, including Federal Aviation Administration approvals for high-altitude events; data gathering, researching and experimenting; planning the program; and implementing all aspects of the program.

The entire school gets involved in these events, sending sparks figuratively flying with knowledge, successful teamwork and enthusiasm about future possibilities.

The future has already arrived for many of his former students, who have absorbed the love of aerospace from their teacher and followed it into careers they can be proud of.

His students’ welfare and best interest lie always at the forefront of what Naccarato does. He hopes the lessons they learn both academically and socially will benefit them as they grow up.

“My hope is that my fire will ignite their fire,” he said. “I want them to know if they want to do something, they should let nothing stop them.”