Digital Story: American Veteran and Chalkboard Hero Henry Alvin Cameron


Here is a digital story about American veteran and Chalkboard hero Henry Alvin Cameron, a science teacher from Nashville, Tennessee. Enjoy!

To read more about this remarkable educator, see my book, Chalkboard Heroes, available on or on the website for Barnes and Noble.

Have a wonderful July 4 celebration!


Amanda Curtis: High School Math Teacher and Former Member of Montana’s House of Representatives

5407fcc86f307.preview-620Many talented educators also distinguish themselves as successful politicians. A wonderful example of this is Montana’s Amanda Morse Curtis, a high school math and physics teacher who has also served in the Montana House of Representatives.

Amanda was born September 10, 1979. Her working-class childhood was anything but idyllic. When she was only four years old, her parents divorced. Amanda watched her mother struggle with mental illness. The family was poor, and at times, they had to live without utilities and rely on food stamps in order to eat. Amanda saw several members of her extended family battle with drugs and alcohol. Two weeks before her high school graduation, Amanda’s younger brother killed himself while playing Russian roulette. He was only 16.

Amanda knew that education was her ticket out of poverty. After graduating from Skyview High School, she attended Montana Technology University of the University of Montana, earning her bachelor’s of science in biology in 2002. She then attended the University of Montana Western where she earned her teaching credential.

After earning her degree, Amanda taught math and physics at Butte Central Catholic High School from 2004-2006. From 2006-2009, she taught math at Helena Middle School, and since 2009, she has taught math at Butte High School. She also served as an executive board member for the Butte Teachers Union from 2011-2012.

Amanda began her political career when she was elected to the Montana House of Representatives on November 6, 2012. Representing Butte, Montana, in House District 76, the freshman lawmaker succeeded Democrat Jon Sesso, who had been elected to the Montana Senate. While in office, she was assigned to the committees for business and labor, human services, and local government. She sponsored the Hire Montana First Act to create more jobs in her home state, and she fought for increased benefits for volunteer fire fighters and a repeal of state legislation against the gay community. She was also outspoken about gun violence, calling for background checks and better gun-control measures to be enacted. Naturally, Amanda has expressed her belief in the value of a good education. “As a high school teacher, I know the importance of investing in our students,” she said at a 2014 rally at the University of Montana. “Education is a path forward for better paying jobs and securing our economic future,” said continued.

Amanda met her husband, Kevin Curtis, at a rock-climbing store when he was training to be a speed skater. They live in a miner’s cottage in Butte with their cat, Geoff, and their dogs, Billie and Rick. The couple does not have any children.

Science teacher Ann Mah also serves in the Kansas House of Representatives

28 Ann MahOften talented educators also become accomplished politicians. This is true of Ann E. Mah, a high school teacher who was also elected as a Democrat to the Kansas House of Representatives.

Ann was born on May 5, 1951, in Clay Center, Kansas. Her parents were Wayne and Evelyn Clark. Young Ann was raised in Haysville near Wichita, where her father was a machinist at Boeing and her mother was a public school teacher.

Ann graduated from Haysville Campus High School.  She earned her bachelor’s degree from Emporia State University in 1973 and her master’s degree from Emporia in 1978. She served as a high school science teacher in Chase County public schools from 1973-1978, and as a teacher in Emporia public schools from 1977-1979.

Ann was elected to the Kansas House of Representatives in 2005. While in office, Ann represented the 53rd district. She served on the committees for education, higher education, and local government. She also served on the Kansas Advisory Committee on Career and Technical Education in the Kansas Department of Education. She served until 2013.

Ann and her husband, Larry, have one child, a son named Cary, and one grandchild. The couple lives in Topeka, Kansas. Currently, Ann works as a trainer and motivational speaker, and is the owner of Discover! Strategies. She is a member of the Capitol Area Federated Women’s Democratic Club, Shawnee County Democrats, State Committee of the North Central Association, and serves on the Board of Directors of the United Way of Greater Topeka. Active as a community volunteer, she has also served on the United Way of Greater Topeka Board of Directors and the Shawnee Heights Public Schools Foundation Board of Directors.

In 1997, Ann was selected National Woman of the Year by the American Business Women’s Association. She was also voted the Topeka YWCA Woman of Excellence.

Chalkboard Champion Joseph Acaba: Educator and NASA Astronaut

220px-Joseph_Acaba_v2Many talented educators earn recognition for achievements outside of the classroom. Such is certainly the case of science and math teacher Joseph Michael Acaba, who is also a hydro-geologist and NASA educator astronaut. This chalkboard champion is the first individual of Puerto Rican descent to become a NASA astronaut.

Joe was born on May 17, 1967, in Inglewood, California, where his parents, Ralph and Elsie Acaba, had moved from Hatillo, Puerto Rico, during the 1960s. When he was an elementary student, Joe excelled in both science and math. He enjoyed reading, particularly science fiction stories. He also appreciated educational movies, and credits his interest in space to a film he watched in his boyhood depicting Neil Armstrong’s 1969 landing on the moon. During his senior year in high school, he became interested in scuba diving, and later he became a certified scuba diver through a job-training program at his school. This experience inspired him to further his academic education in the field of geology. In 1985, Joe graduated with honors from Esperanza High School in Anaheim, California.

Joe earned his bachelor’s degree in geology from the University of California, Santa Barbara, in 1990, and his master’s degree in geology from the University of Arizona in 1992. Following his graduation, Joe enlisted as a reservist in the US Marine Corps, where he served his country for six years. During this time, Joe worked as a hydro-geologist in Los Angeles, where he was involved in the assessment and remediation of groundwater contaminants. He has also worked for the Caribbean Marine Research in the Bahamas and as a shoreline re-vegetation coordinator in Vero Beach, Florida.

Additionally, Joe spent two years in the Peace Corps, where he trained over 300 teachers in modern teaching methodologies in the Dominican Republic. “Once I did that, I knew that education was what I wanted to do,” Joe said. To fulfill this dream, after leaving the Peace Corps Joe taught one year of high school science and math at Melbourne High School in Melbourne, Florida, and four years of science and math at Dunnellon Middle School in Dunnellon, Florida. Then, in May 2004, the veteran educator was one of three classroom teachers selected by NASA to be a mission specialist. “The only job that could take me away from teaching is being an astronaut,” he explained. “Being an educator astronaut is the best of both worlds.”

In February 2006, Joe completed his astronaut candidate training, which included scientific and technical briefings, intensive instruction in shuttle and International Space Station systems, physiological training, T-38 flight training, and water and wilderness survival training. Upon completion of his training, Joe was assigned to the Hardware Integration Team in the Space Station Branch, working technical issues with European Space Agency hardware.  He was also a member of the Space Shuttle Branch, supporting shuttle launch and landing preparations at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Joe’s first space mission was aboard STS-119, which flew from March 15 to March 28, 2009. The task for this mission was to deliver the final set of solar arrays to the International Space Station. Joe performed two space walks during this mission. His second space mission was Expedition 31/32, which was launched on May 15, 2012, from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, and returned on September 17, 2012.  As a member of the Expedition 31/32 crews, Joe spent 123 days aboard the International Space Station as a flight engineer. The intrepid educator has logged a total of 138 days in space during his two missions.

thJoe once said that, as an educator astronaut, he hoped to reach out to minority students. On March 18, 2008, he traveled to Puerto Rico, where he was honored by the island’s senate. During his visit, Joe met with school children at the capitol and at Science Park located in Bayamon. Science Park boasts a planetarium and several surplus NASA rockets among its exhibits. Joe made a second trip to Puerto Rico on June 1, 2009. On that trip he spent seven days on the island and came into contact with over 10,000 citizens, most of them school children.

Joe is active in several professional organizations. He is a member of the International Technology Education Association, the Florida Association of Science Teachers, and the Association of Space Explorers. During his career, Joe has earned many honors. He has been given the Ana G. Mendez University System Presidential Medal and a Doctorate Honoris Causa from the Polytechnic University of Puerto Rico. In addition, Caras Magazine designated Joe as one of the most influential and exciting Puerto Ricans of 2012.

“As an educator,” this chalkboard champion once expounded, “I think the most important thing for me is to fulfill the goal of inspiring the next generation. Motivating kids to learn is as important as the subject matter.”

Alabama Teacher Blanche Evans Dean: Noted Naturalist, Conservationist, and Author

m-3087_thumbMany gifted educators are well-known not only for their contributions to the classroom, but also for outstanding accomplishments outside the realm of education. Such is the case for Blanche Evans Dean, a high school biology teacher who is also a renowned naturalist and conservationist from Alabama.

Blanche was born June 12, 1892, the youngest child of her parents, John and Catherine Evans. She was raised on her parents’ farm in Clay County, Alabama, on land her mother’s family had bought from the Creek Indians. Even at an early age, the young Blanche developed a keen interest in science, and exhibited a fondness for the plants and animals that inhabited the world around her.

As a teenager, Blanche attended Lineville High School and, after graduating in 1908, began teaching at the two-teacher school at Hatchett Creek Presbyterian Church. After deciding to make teaching her lifelong career, Blanche enrolled at Jacksonville Normal School, now known as Jacksonville State University, with a major in education. She later transferred to Valparaiso University in Indiana, from which she earned a teaching certificate at age 26.

After graduation, Blanche taught for three years at Shades Valley High School in Birmingham. In 1922, she took a break from teaching and entered the University of Alabama, where she earned a degree in chemistry in 1924. Once she completed this degree, she accepted a position as a biology teacher at Woodlawn High School in Birmingham, where she developed her hands-on, experience-based style of teaching. Blanche believed that students were better able to develop an understanding of birds, insects, and plants, and “a sense of being” for all living things by listening and observing first-hand, even getting down on their hands and knees.

In 1939, the innovative teacher married William Dean, but they divorced less than a year later. Blanche decided to keep her husband’s surname.

Blanche remained at Woodlawn High School until she retired in 1957, spending nearly 30 years teaching in the public school system. In the later years of her career, she became a passionate naturalist and conservationist. One of her projects in the 1940s was a campaign to have the U.S. Government declare Alabama’s Clear Creek Falls a national park. The area, threatened by dam construction, was rich in mountain laurel, contained a rare species of white azalea, and even supported a stand of Canadian hemlock. The campaign failed, however, and the falls were ultimately incorporated into Lewis Smith Lake.

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Blanche helped to found the Alabama Ornithological Society, the Alabama Environmental Council, and the Alabama Conservation Council, then known as the Alabama Conservancy. Additionally, the indefatigable educator was involved in the Birmingham Audubon Society, the Alabama Academy of Science, the National Association of Biology Teachers, the American Fern Society, and Delta Kappa Gamma. In 1951, she established an Outdoor Nature Camp, which she directed every summer for thirteen years in order to educate teachers and other adults about Alabama’s natural history. In 1967, after assisting the Alabama Environmental Council in designating Alabama’s first national forest, the Willliam B. Bankhead National Forest,  she was awarded a prize from the National Audubon Society for conservation education. Blanche was the first person from Alabama to receive such an award.

Blanche had always been frustrated with the lack of reference books available about Alabama’s botany and zoology, so after her retirement she wrote several books on the subject. She self-published Let’s Learn the Birds of Alabama in 1957, Trees and Shrubs in the Heart of Dixie in 1961, Let’s Learn the Ferns of Alabama in 1964, and Wildflowers of Alabama and Adjoining States in 1973. Her field guides remain the standard today.

This remarkable educator passed away May 31, 1974, at the age of 88, from complications caused by a major stroke. She was buried in the cemetery at Hatchett Creek Presbyterian Church. But she was not forgotten. In 1975, she was recognized with the Alabama Library Association’s first posthumous Annual Author Award for her non-fiction books. The Alabama Wildflower Society later established the Blanche E. Dean Scholarship Fund and named its Birmingham chapter after her. In 1985, Blanche was inducted into the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame  in 1985.