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Alma’s Kelley named NWA regional ‘Teacher of Year’ 4/8/22

Alma’s Kelley named NWA regional ‘Teacher of Year’

By Kevin Taylor

Alma Schools 


Veteran Alma teacher Jerry Don Kelley approaches teaching science the same way he does when drafting his fantasy baseball team. 


The more research, the better the results. 


This week, Kelley was named the Northwest Arkansas Regional Science and Engineering Fair Teacher of the Year. 


“The award itself is voted on by other teachers, and I think that’s the biggest part for me,” Kelley said. “Other teachers recognize the work that goes into it. 


“In a way, I kind of feel like I got lucky.”


“He deserves it, first and foremost, because of the relationships he has with kids,” Alma High School Principal Brian Kirkendoll said. “He’s an innovator - he always wants the best for everybody.”


The Northwest Arkansas Regional Science and Engineering Fair Teacher of the Year is voted on by teachers across the area. Fourteen of Kelley’s students received high marks at the Northwest Arkansas Regional Science and Engineering Fair. 


“It’s recognition of the time, effort, and energy that goes into helping students do research,” Kelley said. “Starting on Day 1 in August, going through the process of learning how to do research, collecting data that people can understand. It’s conveying information. 


“We were successful this year with a lot of our students.”


Fourteen of Kelley’s individual students, Haytei Moses (Animal Science); Jack Snell (Computer Science); Addison Johnson (Earth and Planetary); Kimbrie Smith, Mabrey Birchfield, and Leah Tally (Behavioral Science); Zoey Kimes (Energy and Transportation); Riley Needham and Damien Philpot (Electrical and Mechanical Engineering); Eli Waldrop (Materials and Bioengineering); Tyler Wilcox (Environmental Management); Sophie Perreault (Medicine and Health); Isaac Vasquez (Microbiology); and McKenzie Gwinn (Physics), placed under Kelley’s tutelage.


“A lot of them have never done it before,” Kelley said. “I submitted 14 projects, and all 14 placed, which is a feat in itself - you have freshmen competing all over northwest Arkansas against juniors and seniors, and a lot of those freshmen ended up going to Little Rock and competing against Little Rock Central, ASMA (Arkansas School for Math and Science), Pulaski Academy, and held their own - a lot of them placed down there as well.”


“Sometimes I’m guilty, we’re all guilty, of not acknowledging those who give their all,” Kirkendoll said of Kelley’s award. “I can just tell you, he’s a great asset for us.


“It’s great for him, but it’s also great for Alma High School.”


Kelley, a high school catcher for the Airedales’ baseball team in the late 1990s and early 2000s, credits former Alma science teachers Bob Wolfe and Bill Mullens for steering him toward teaching.


“I was very fortunate to have some good ones,” Kelley said. “I had Bob Wolfe and Bill Mullens; both of those guys had huge impacts on me finding an interest in science and doing research, and ultimately ending up in the field of education. The time and effort they put in to help me, it gives me the experience to give back to the kids I have.


“It’s like sports. If you don’t invest the time, you’re not going to get it.”


Kelley said part of his work is teaching kids how to present themselves to others. 


“You have to do the work, but you also have to learn to talk to people,” he said. “Those are tough things to do these days. A lot of our kids that are successful in science, those are the kids involved in other activities. 


“We’ve (teachers) got to do everything we can during the time we have them, to expand on their skills.”


Kelley credits Alma’s strong science department with much of the success. 


“We don’t have a lot of turnover,” he said. “We all get along really well and we all work well together. That has a lot to do with being successful. Now that I’m teaching freshmen, I can work with them, and then they can go to Zach Thomas, (Jeana) Parker, (Tiffany) Scrivner, (Brian) Curd, and (Rene) Taylor. Now that we have a new ag program, we’re trying to find ways for them to do research. 


“Research can be done in computer science, band, choir … research can be done in any area of education and any area of the private sector. You’ve just to find out what kids are interested in and push them and motivate them.”