Swanton, Ohio --
Growing up in a home where education was valued, 1st Lt. Ashley Chapa, assigned to the Ohio National Guard’s 180th Fighter Wing, intended to make teaching a career, but it was her dream to serve her country that came first.
Chapa was so eager to serve that she enlisted, in 2004, at the age of 17 while still in her senior year at Chisago Lakes High School, in her hometown of Lindstorm Minnesota.
I wanted to give back for all the freedoms and liberties I have been afforded as an American,” said Chapa. “Freedom is not free and is only possible as a result of the brave men and women who stand up to defend those freedoms.”
Joining the Minnesota National Guard’s 148th Fighter Wing as a jet engine mechanic, Chapa transferred to the 180FW in 2006 so she could attend The Ohio State University, in Columbus, where she pursued a double major in Italian and History of Art, earning her Bachelor of Art in Italian and Bachelor of Art in History of Art in 2009.
In 2013, deciding to bring her dreams of teaching to reality, Chapa enrolled in the Master of Education in Special Education program at the University of Toledo, graduating in 2014.
“Even though I wasn’t using my undergraduate degrees,” said Chapa. “With this degree, I was still able to apply my passion for teaching and helping others through a different avenue.”
For the past five years Chapa has worked as an intervention specialist at Liberty Center Elementary School in Northwest Ohio, where she works with kindergarten and first grade students with varying degrees of disabilities in small group and one-on-one settings, or co-teaching in a general education classroom setting, assisting typical students as well as students with disabilities.
“I firmly believe that all students can and will learn when provided with individualized educational opportunities that capitalize on their strengths, instead of what they cannot yet do,” said Chapa. “Kids with disabilities are just like their peers, in that they deserve an appropriate education that provides them with what they need in order to be successful.”
Chapa has always been passionate about helping others and her role as an intervention specialist allows her the opportunities to make a lasting impact in many ways.
“In my role as an intervention specialist, I am able to advocate for the educational rights of my students and provide early intervention in order to minimize the learning and educational gaps as much as possible,” Chapa said. “Also, I often work with students who have challenging needs and students who come from a variety of backgrounds. Some days I may be their only source of smiles, praise and encouragement, so it is imperative that I also advocate for their social-emotional needs as well.”
“She is really nice,” said first grader, Olivia Boylan. “I like her because she always helps me sound out words.”
“She’s a special teacher,” said Kelly Hartbarger, principal at Liberty Center Elementary. “It’s not just a classroom to her or her students. She’s attached to them and they are attached to her. She is so dedicated to the kids and their families.”
In addition to her fulltime teaching career at Liberty Center, Chapa still continues to serve as a traditional guardsman with the 180th Fighter Wing.
Currently serving as Director of Equal Opportunity at the 180FW, Chapa is responsible for the development of education materials and overseeing training requirements related to human relations, discrimination and harassment for more 900 Airmen assigned to the wing. She is also charged with facilitating the Equal Opportunity process for any Airmen who feel they may have been victims of, inadvertent or intentional, unlawful discrimination or sexual harassment.
“It is my sincere hope that I can spend 95% of my time on preventing discrimination and harassment through education and training,” said Chapa. “Best practice states that prevention is more effective than reaction. Therefore, our office takes the time to educate Airmen by increasing awareness of laws, regulations and observances in an effort to prevent discrimination and harassment.”
In an effort to better to educate Airmen, promote awareness and prevent discrimination or harassment situations within the wing, Chapa decided to expand her knowledge in the field and is currently attending course at the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute, located at Patrick Air Force base, Florida. Throughout the six week course, made up of more than 113 Army and Air Force officers and enlisted members, Chapa was ranked in the top 5% of students for academic excellence, earning her the title of Distinguished Graduate.
“I will miss her when she’s gone,” said kindergartner, Charlie Rains. “I like it when she lets me be the teacher. And, she gives me treats!”
“When she’s gone for training, it’s impactful,” said Hartbarger. “It’s hard. No one could ever fill her shoes. We are so very proud of her and her service to our country.”
Hartbarger also attributes Chapa’s military service and training to the dedication and discipline Chapa brings to the classroom.
“She is dedicated and disciplined,” said Hartbarger. “That, combined with her compassion and understanding allow her to handle the most difficult cases with poise and grace. She is so valuable to us.”
While the educational needs and environments of adults serving in the ANG are vastly different from those of her students, Chapa has easily been able to apply and blend skillsets and techniques from one to the other, further enhancing her ability to teach and advise commanders and military members on rights, regardless of any differences, perceived or otherwise.
“During the week, as a teacher, I teach and advocate for the rights of my students, regardless of any disabilities,” Chapa continued. “During military training, I teach and advocate for the rights of my fellow military members, regardless of any differences, perceived or otherwise.”
Chapa credits her role as an intervention specialist to setting her up for success in her military role by providing her the ability to prepare effective and efficient lesson plans, allowing her to be better prepared when training fellow Airmen.
“It has also helped me in advising all of our Airmen,” said Chapa. “Regardless of background, age, gender or race.”
A true teacher at heart, Chapa strives to bring it all together, using best practices from both her civilian and military roles to aid her in providing the best possible education, opportunities and outcome for her students, no matter their age, background or differences.
Her heart belongs to her smallest students and she hopes to continue her career at Liberty Center Elementary for years to come.
“I do intend to go back to school to earn my Educator Specialist degree,” said Chapa. “This would provide me the credentials needed to one day be the Director of Special Education in a school district. This would involve leading a team of intervention specialist and providing support for staff and students within the district.”
Chapa plans to continue her military career and teaching her fellow Airmen, as director of equal opportunity or in any other position that would allow her to both teach and follow her passion of helping others.
“I am open to whatever opportunities present themselves and will consider myself blessed for whatever comes my way,” said Chapa. “I enjoy working with people and I am passionate about helping others, so I am hopeful for a position that allows me to continue to do those things.”