By Lindsey Ziliak
Tribune staff writer
A Sycamore Elementary School teacher and self-proclaimed “science nerd” recently received national recognition for his classroom lessons on space and flight technology.
Jim McCarter received this year’s Scott Crossfield Aerospace Education National Teacher of the Year Award.
“I was famous for a few moments in time and space,” McCarter said during his acceptance speech at the 2012 National Aviation Hall of Fame Enshrinement ceremonies.
“Sadly, I had to come home to do recess duty,” he later added, with a laugh.
Only one teacher in the United States receives the award each year.
It was established in 1986 by research test pilot Scott Crossfield, the first man to successfully fly at speeds above Mach 2 and Mach 3 and the first man to fly the X-15.
Crossfield’s award recognizes teachers in kindergarten to 12th grades for outstanding achievements in aerospace education.
Nominations are examined by a review committee of aerospace industry and education professionals who look at a teacher’s effectiveness, creativity and ability to maintain high standards for their students and themselves, according to the website for the award.
Charley Hinkle, who was principal at Sycamore Elementary for years, was not surprised to hear McCarter was being honored.
“He is an amazing educator,” Hinkle said. “He has put so much time into creating an excitement about aerospace. He’s very good at engaging students in activities that are hands on.”
McCarter is always doing space-related projects with students and integrating other subjects into those projects. His whole class participates in a mock space mission every year, Hinkle said.
McCarter solicited the help of an electrical engineer to develop a space shuttle, a replica of the Mars Rover and a robotic arm that can be used in his classes.
“One of the most important things a teacher can have is enthusiasm and a love for what they do,” Hinkle said. “You can see that and feel that with Jim. He is a great asset to this corporation.”
Kokomo-Center School officials said McCarter’s award came with a $5,000 cash stipend that McCarter could use however he wanted. He chose to put it back into his classroom.
He bought a refrigerator for his classroom and supplies for his LEGO League robotics team. Some of the money will fund his classroom space shuttle missions, he said.
McCarter told the aviation dignitaries and business leaders at the awards ceremony that their support of education was making a difference in students’ lives. Their work inspires kids in his class.
“I explained to the aviation community that kids who want to be in your classroom are going to show up, have good behavior and are going to learn something,” McCarter said. “Astronauts and other aviators were the bait on my hook to help students learn.”
McCarter said he is inspired by astronauts and aviators, too.
During his awards presentation he got to meet five astronauts he’s followed through the years, like Eileen Collins, the first female shuttle commander, and Dick Rutan, who was on the first non-stop and unrefueled flight around the world.
He also had breakfast at Orville and Wilbur Wright’s home. He said he saw their circular shower and special bread cutter.
“People forget the Wright brothers were inventors,” he said. “Many other people were flying, but the Wright brothers invented banking, which allows the plane to turn. Their 1905 flyer could do Figure 8s, which made it the first practical flying machine.”
While earning the award was nice, McCarter said he was most touched by the outpouring of messages he’s received from former students who wanted to congratulate him on the award.
One of those messages was read during the November Kokomo-Center board meeting. It was from Natalie Boger, who graduated in 2010.
“I am now a junior at Purdue University studying biomedical engineering, and to this day, Mr. McCarter is among my all-time favorite teachers,” Boger wrote. “I appreciated the individual attention and care Mr. McCarter gave to each student. I truly felt that Mr. McCarter believed in me. He played a great role in shaping not only my character, but also my career. He definitely deserves these teacher awards.”