Sevierville teacher earns aerospace honor

Jun. 03, 2013 @ 11:09 PM

When Denise Buckner signed up for an aerospace teacher’s workshop two years ago, the program ignited a passion in her that she has been able to pass along to her third grade students.

At Sevierville Intermediate School’s recent awards ceremony, Buckner was named Aerospace Education Teacher of the Year for the region. The award, which was presented by Gary E. Lynn, a lieutenant colonel from the U.S. Air Force, came as a surprise to the 18-year veteran teacher.

Buckner said that although she had been contacted about the nomination several months ago, she never expected to receive the award. “It had been so long ago. I just figured somebody else had gotten it,” she said.

“I’d gotten teacher of the year before,” Buckner said,” But this was even better. I almost cried.”

To attend the workshop that first led to her interest in aerospace, Buckner had to enroll as a UT student. Learning from members of the Civil Air Patrol and other pilots, Buckner had the opportunity to fly a plane twice, and she also learned how to refuel a plane.

“The kicker to all this is that I’m scared of heights,” she said. “Once you get up there and start looking at an area you’re familiar with, it’s fascinating, so I was able to do it.”

Buckner added that flying a military plane was a bit intimidating, however. “It went higher, so it was a little scary,” she said. “But you could see the rivers meandering through the valley. It was definitely one of the most awesome experiences of my life.”

Through photos, Buckner shares the experience with her students. “They get so excited that somebody they know has done this and is pointing things out to them that they recognize. They can see the school and Dollywood,” she said. “You can hear the excitement in their voices.”

After completing the program, Buckner wanted to share her enthusiasm with her students, so she launched an aerospace club at the school. This is the club’s second year of operation, and there are currently over 70 participating members who meet once a month.

Throughout the year, members have learned about the history of flight and the space program as well as how planes fly. In addition, they have created  and tested various designs of paper airplanes.

Aerospace members have also learned the basics of rockets and how they work. Two meetings were spent building rockets, and the students launched them at the last meeting of the school year.

A virtual field trip to the moon enabled students to view some of the Earth’s geographical features from space, as well as learn what astronauts experience during flight and exploration.

The students also heard from a couple of guest speakers this year. “Because of the workshop, I’ve been able to make some connections with people,” Buckner explained. “I think it’s natural for kids to get excited and be interested in pilots and astronauts, but this allows them to see that there are other avenues in the field that they can pursue that are just as exciting.”

In an effort to increase student awareness about the available aerospace careers, retired Air Traffic Controller J.T. Putney talked to members about potential careers in aerospace as well as the education needed to obtain these jobs.

The students also heard a program entitled “Suited Up for Flight,” presented by a retired United States Air Force pilot who now works for the Civil Air Patrol. During the presentation, students learned how pilots are used in the Civil Air Patrol, as well as key items pilots need in a survival vest, particularly in a war zone.

“I hope a lot of kids are inspired to go into some of these fields,” Buckner said. “We need kids who are highly educated in science. Anyone who has a dream and the inspiration to achieve it can reach that goal.” n

jfrye@themountainpress.com