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WES teacher earns AFA Tennessee Valley Chapter Teacher of Year

West Elementary School second-grade teacher Chasity Parker received recognition from the Air Force Association May 20 as the Tennessee Valley Chapter Teacher of the Year for 2019.

The award covers grades kindergarten through eighth, and recipients are chosen for their outstanding work in STEM education.

Parker’s father, Ralph Vincent, was a jet engine mechanic in the Air Force and worked on B52s during the Vietnam War. Because of his connection to the Air Force, Parker said she finds it especially meaningful to receive an honor from the Air Force Association.

Parker, in addition to teaching second-grade science and math, has also been trained as an Alabama Math, Science and Technology Initiative specialist.

She received a certificate recognizing the AFA award as well as a check to help fund additional STEM lessons in the future.

“It’s an honor to be nominated and selected for this award,” Parker said. “This is the first year we’ve had robotics in our school. It was offered to second graders, and because I am so active with AMSTI, I had an interest in being the sponsor for the robotics/STEM club.”

Twenty students are members of the group. In February they competed in a robotics competition at the University of North Alabama, where they won the Overall award out of 80 K-12 robotics teams.

AMSTI specialist Natalie Burt said Parker attended summer training to become an AMSTI specialist, and she now trains other teachers to become AMSTI specialists. “It speaks very highly of her character that she seeks for and carries out the best instructional practices,” Burt said. “She has been an excellent trainer for us. She is very motivating for the other teachers she trains.”

West Elementary Principal Deanna Hollimon said a relationship was established with the AFA to be able to use it as a resource – something which will be of great benefit to the school.

“We are proud of the strides our system continues to make in the area of STEM education,”

Hollimon said, “and of teachers like Mrs. Parker who are committed and passionate about teaching and learning.”

AFA Tennessee Valley Chapter President, Rick Driesbach, who is a retired Air Force colonel, and AFA South Central Region President Russell Lewey, who is also a retired Air Force colonel, were present to award the honor in person at a special ceremony in a school assembly.

The certificate notes the award is presented “for demonstrated excellence in education in the spirit of Christa McAuliffe, and in recognition of sustained, outstanding performance as an educator and unequalled dedication to ensuring that America’s students are prepared for aerospace technological challenges of the future.”

McAuliffe was a teacher who was selected for the NASA Teacher in Space Project. She was a payload specialist on board the space shuttle Challenger – one of two civilians on board. The crew died Jan. 28, 1986, when Challenger exploded after launch.

Parker said the implication that she exhibits McAuliffe’s makes the award extra meaningful to her. The Challenger explosion happened on Parker’s birthday when she was in second grade, and now she teaches second grade.

Parker said she plans to use the award money to purchase resources to further robotics and STEM education for her students.

The Alabama Math, Science, and Technology Initiative is a project of the Alabama Department of Education to improve math and science teaching statewide. For more information, visit AMSTI.org.