Civil Air Patrol held its 2022-2023 National CAP ACE Liftoff on Oct. 14 in Hoover, Alabama, at Bluff Park Elementary School, which was recognized as the 2022 National CAP ACE School of the Year.

In addition, Bluff Park Elementary’s  STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) teacher, Geri Evans, was awarded for National CAP ACE Sustained Excellence.

“Bluff Park Elementary School is so fortunate to partner with Civil Air Patrol and to be recognized as the National Aerospace Connections in Education School of the Year,” Principal Ami Weems said. She praised Evans for “a phenomenal job creating innovative lessons that inspire children to learn more about STEM careers.”

“Geri understands the importance of building relationships with others who also share the same passion for STEM-focused careers, character education, and a healthy lifestyle,” Weems said.

Aerospace Connections in Education (ACE) is a K-6 multidisciplinary program that uses the aerospace theme to promote academics with a STEM focus, character education, and physical fitness for a healthy and drug-free lifestyle.

The program is in its 15th year and has impacted over a half-million students nationwide.

 Through the ACE program and other free STEM programs for K-12 teachers, Civil Air Patrol is demonstrating how teachers can inspire students toward an early interest in various STEM careers, helping reduce the shortage of future STEM professionals. STEAM (STEM plus art) teacher Evans has been leading the way for Bluff Park Elementary while working with CAP and its free educational programs since 2011.

The 50-minute program last week at Bluff Park Elementary began with a Children’s Hospital Life Flight helicopter landing. CAP’s local Springville Cadet Squadron presented the colors while students led the audience in the Pledge of Allegiance and a student sang the national anthem. 

Lt. Col. Trish Coghlan, recruiting and retention director for CAP’s Alabama Wing, greeted the guests, and JT Mercer, Bluff Park United Methodist Church youth pastor and youth soccer coach, delivered the message of the day, “Planning an ACE of a Life with Shining Character, Good Health, and Academic Success.”

Weems received a CAP Teacher Orientation Program (TOP) flight over the school and shared a motivating message with the students on the ground, while a Bluff Park Drone craft took an aerial photo of the entire student body.

 “The pilot, Capt. Gary King, was amazing, and the flight ranked in the top three experiences of my educational career,” she said. King is a member of the Alabama Wing’s Maxwell Composite Squadron.

 The students at Bluff Park Elementary participated in several aerospace-related STEM activities the rest of the day, including:

  •   A meteorology presentation by CBS 42 meteorologist Ashley Gann, who presented a live weather segment at noon.
  •   A Southwest Airlines pilot aviation career presentation.
  •   Lunar Breakout Room with Bluff Park Technology teachers.
  •   Southern Museum of Flight’s make and fly activities.
  •  Tech in Motion’s drone playground with K’NEX rovers.
  •   Tour of the Life Flight helicopter and a Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office helicopter.
  •   Alabama Math, Science, and Technology Initiative straw rocket program.

Those participants’ involvement solidified the relationships that Evans has intentionally worked to create, Weems said.

“Our teachers walked away from the Liftoff event fired up,” she said.