Science teacher's dedication reaches beyond classroom.

Kristen Ables’ ubiquitous presence and positive energy at Sussex Central High School has been nationally recognized.

Ables, a science teacher, has been nominated for the LifeChanger of the Year Award. The honor is presented by National Life Group, a life insurance company, and seeks to celebrate “those who are making a significant difference in the lives of students by exemplifying excellence, positive influence and leadership.”

“She loves her job and working daily with her students,” said Ables’ mother, Joan 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 grandmom. To see her fulfill her dreams and being so wonderful at her job is truly an inspiration.”

On top of teaching, the 47-year-old Ables is the science department chair, co-chair of the student council, National Honor Society advisor and prom coordinator. She’s working toward her master’s degree. She is married with two children.

Her husband’s job brought her to Delaware – she hails from Bucks County, Pa., and has a bachelor’s of science in education from Temple University. Ben Ables is band director at Sussex Central. Their oldest son, 16-year-old Zach, attends SCHS.

The many roles of a dedicated teacher

Ables is a veteran of Sussex Central, where she’s taught since 1998. She teaches juniors and seniors in honors physics and International Baccalaureate chemistry.

In the IB program, schools must pass a rigorous authorization process to become an IB World School, and teachers must participate in continuing development. It consists of college preparatory classes. Completing them is a gold star on college applications and sometimes allows students to bypass certain entry-level college courses.

“Chemistry … is a major challenge, but in my years of teaching 99 percent of the kids have gotten it after I have been working with them for a period of time,” Ables said. “I look forward to seeing when something I’m teaching clicks, when you see the lightbulb go off.”

As the science department chair, Ables is responsible for planning meetings, for online communications and for supply inventories.

As student council co-chair, Ables and fellow teacher Suzanne Brady, oversee student elections, spirit week, homecoming and pep rallies. In addition to their regular duties, the student council also conducts a food drive, hosts multiple families for Christmas and leads a “Spread the Word To End the Word” campaign, all of which Ables is involved with.

“This year we heard about Pack the Pod and brought all the food down to Caroling on the Circle [in Georgetown] and we were really excited to do that,” Ables said. “We also do a ‘Giving Tree,’ and this year we hosted nine families with students in our school. People volunteered to bring in certain gifts and we were able to give them to the families.”

In order to “Spread the Word To End the Word,” students led a T-shirt campaign and held a banner signing, and students paired up with students from Howard T. Ennis School to go bowling.

Her National Honor Society duties include monitoring student GPAs, inviting new students to join and helping to approve applicants. Members must maintain a certain level of service hours, which Ables tracks. She also organizes service projects for members, like reading to elementary schoolers.

Ables oversees a student prom committee and is responsible for booking the venue, guiding students in choosing themes and decorations, hiring a DJ, organizing the Grand March on the Circle and recruiting chaperones.

“It’s basically like planning a wedding every year,” she said.

A few years ago, she went the extra mile when a student told her she wasn’t going to prom.

“A student I had in my very first IB class didn’t want to ask her mom for money,” Ables said. “We were able to get a bunch of dresses donated and pull in beauty school students to do hair and makeup.”

She personally bought that student a corsage. Now, SCHS has a collection of prom dresses for needy students and Ables works to find volunteers each year to do hair and makeup. This year, Mary Kay consultants have stepped in.

“Kristen is … one of the most caring and trusted educators from the viewpoint of students. Many students have said that’s she’s like a second mother, or the primary ‘mother figure’ for those who, unfortunately, do not have a strong motherly figure at home,” said SCHS Principal Bradley Layfield. “Her dedication to her classroom is paralleled by her commitment to school climate and culture.”

Leadership calling

Somehow, Ables has found time to go back to school to earn her master’s degree in educational administration. She will complete her degree in December.

Ables said she doesn’t plan on giving up teaching any time soon, but thinks the degree may come in handy down the road when her sons have graduated and her husband retires.

“I like being in the know, I like being on the forefront of new technology and curriculums,” she said. “I think I would be a very good asset as an administrator.”

In the meantime, Ables awaits word on the LifeChanger award. Out of the eligible nominees, one grand prize winner and four grand prize finalists are chosen, and each wins a cash prize to split with their school. Winners are announced through springtime. You can find more information at lifechangeroftheyear.com.