Helping to change student lives, science teacher goes above and beyond

Sussex Central High School science teacher Kristen Ables, an active leader/advisor in several student and staff organizations, is a national nominee for LifeChanger of the Year.

GEORGETOWN — Initially, Kristen Ables yearned to be a pharmacist.

That didn’t pan out.

Today, and for about the last 20 years, she has been a science teacher at Sussex Central High School.

Her energized efforts to go beyond the classroom. Her energized involvement in other school activities has put Ms. Ables in the national spotlight as a LifeChanger of the Year nominee.

Sponsored by the National Life Group Foundation, LifeChanger of the Year recognizes and rewards the very best K-12 educators and school district employees across America who are making a difference in the lives of students by exemplifying excellence, positive influence and leadership.

At Sussex Central, Ms. Abeles is the science department chair, student council co-advisor, prom coordinator and is involved in the National Honor Society.

“I just like to see the students in a different light other than just in a classroom. Let’s be honest, we are all human. We do judge people. It doesn’t matter if they are kids or adults. And when you see them in a certain way in a classroom and then you see them outside it brings in a whole new rounded perspective. And you get to really know who they are,” said Ms. Ables. “I think that is what I really live for. I love to see that difference in the kids. They are totally different from being in a classroom when they are in an after-school activity.”

“I also think that I like to be involved,” Ms. Ables added. “And it’s not even just all of the stuff with the kids. I like to be involved with leadership in the school. I think I like to be on the forefront of everything that is going on. I guess it is probably a little bit of a problem that I have. I like to be in the know and have my hand in things.”

That means after-school involvement in Homecoming, prom, a canned food drive and a Giving Tree.

In 2015, there was a student who wanted to go to her senior prom but was struggling with financial troubles. Ms. Ables asked a former student for any gowns to lend to this student. She also enlisted students from the beauty academy to come in and help other students with makeup and hair, free of charge. She bought the student a wrist corsage to match her dress, which led to that student having a great senior prom.

Last year, Ms. Ables joined forces with a special education teacher from the special needs Howard T. Ennis School in the district. She partnered regular education students with special education students. Together, they participated in a bowl-a-thon at the local bowling alley. The experience was both fulfilling and humbling for everyone.

Enlisting the Student Council and National Honor Society, they developed a unified bowling team with Howard T. Ennis students this year, “which was really cool,” Ms. Ables said.

Ms. Ables was born and raised in Bucks County, in northeast Philadelphia.

Her husband, Ben Ables, is the music/band director at Sussex Central High School. They have two children: Zachary, who attends Sussex Central, and Nicholas, a student at Southern Delaware School of the Arts.

A wise Owl, she graduated from Temple University with a degree in secondary science for teaching. She is currently pursuing through Wilmington University a master’s in education leadership, a requirement for a building principal.

“I don’t know if I’m going that route, but I thought it would be nice to do a master’s and having something that is different,” Ms. Ables said.

Ms. Ables was nominated for the LifeChanger Award by her mother, Joan DeMilio.

“She loves her job and working daily with her students,” said Ms. DeMilio. “She always says that every day is different, exciting and rewarding. As a young girl, she always wanted to be a teacher like her grand-mom. To see her fulfill her dreams and being so wonderful at her job is truly an inspiration.”

“Because my grandmother was a teacher, I think that she sees the way teaching used to be looked at versus the way it is looked at now. She said you just don’t get recognized for everything that you do,’” said Ms. Ables. “My mother, she was very sneaky about it. She just started asking questions. What do you have to do now honey, because it was like summertime and I was trying to get all of my ducks in a row before we started doing anything. I had no idea what she was doing. And all of sudden (Sussex Central Principal) Dr. (Bradley) Layfield came in and says in the middle of my class, ‘You’ve been nominated for LifeChanger of the Year Award.’ I said, ‘Excuse me.’ Then it started going back to what my mother was talking about.”

LifeChanger of the Year receives hundreds of nominations from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. More than a dozen LifeChanger awards will be given during the 2017-2018 school year, including 10 LifeChanger Award recipients, four grand prize finalists and one grand prize winner, who will receive $10,000 to be shared with their school or district.

This week’s People to Meet, Kristen Ables:

What brought you to Delaware?

“My husband actually brought me here. He went for his master’s at UD and because of being a band director, they are hard to come by. People are usually in them for a long time. Frank Mahoney, who was here, was going down to open up SDSA at the time. So, his position here became available. And the director at UD had connections and said, ‘Do you want a job interview down at Sussex Central HS?’ And away we came.

“We weren’t married at the time. I didn’t feel like I should be trying to get into Pennsbury School District. So, I just kind of decided to look for a job down here instead. I got this job.”

Passion for science?

“I had always taken off in science and math. That was from the start. I actually wasn’t in school for teaching at all. I was in school to be a pharmacist. I don’t want to say how difficult the classes were; it wasn’t the classes. It was because I was a pharmacy technician. I went home and I would just have nightmares that people were getting the wrong drugs, getting hurt. I am like, ‘This is not going to work.’ Then when I met my husband I said, ‘Well, he is a teacher …’ And I had always wanted to teach but honestly like third grade is what I was thinking. So, I thought, ‘Let me take all of the science I have already done and see what I can do with it.’ And here I am, a high school science teacher. I started in 1998.

“This is my only job I have had down here: science, chemistry and physics.”

What does LifeChanger mean?

“It stands for doing up and above your job description as a teacher, and really taking into consideration everything and everybody, meaning, the kids are why we are here. There is no other reason to be a teacher if you don’t like children.

“It is to know that they are all cut from different molds. You need to know then that you’re not just changing lives educationally, you are changing them meaningfully as well.”

Leisure time?

“We like to do a lot of family things. Family time, whether it is just going out or even just hanging out at home. We are really non-stoppers. My kids and my husband are heavily involved in Boy Scouts, Troop 89 out of Georgetown. Usually, if we are not doing school stuff we’re doing Boy Scout stuff. I don’t do camp-outs, but I am on the parent committee for that.”

Got a fun fact?

“I married my roommate’s brother. My roommate in college, at Temple, that’s Ben’s sister. That’s a fun fact, like, ‘How did you meet your husband?’”

Your master’s degree quest?

“I am doing it, one, because I just felt like I needed more education. I haven’t been in school for a while and the pay raise is going to help, too. Two, I tried to think about something else that I would want to use it for. I could have done a technology class. I could have done something with science, but I wanted to see a different avenue. I do like leadership. I have been the department chair now for about 12 to 14 years.  And it’s not like a bossy leadership. I want to be on the forefront of the new curriculum and the new ‘this’ and the new ‘that.’ I think that being a principal, you kind of are on the ‘new’ of everything. You have to be on the cutting edge of everything that surrounds your community. I think that is why I geared myself toward leadership. Is it going to be right now, probably not? I still have a kid in sixth grade. I don’t see me then wanting to give up my summers when my oldest had all of my attention. I think I would give them the equal, but when are both out of school and college, maybe.”

What may the future hold?

“I love doing what I am doing now. I don’t see myself leaving at any time soon.”

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

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