Excellent Educators: First Flight Middle School’s AJ Adams has a flair for the dramatic

Excellent Educators

KILL DEVIL HILLS, N.C. (WAVY) — The name “First Flight Middle School” commemorates 12 seconds of drama: the first taste of flight that launched America to the forefront of modern aviation.

Located just a few feet from the Wright Brothers Memorial in Kill Devil Hills, the classroom provides the perfect stage for teacher AJ Adams and her daily shows before her sixth-grade Theater Arts students.

The challenges of COVID-19 couldn’t suppress the creativity that comes wrapped in a small human package of high-octane fuel that drives her spirit to inform and entertain young minds. Adams’ vocal cadence shifts from soprano-like tones of laughter to mock-grumbling — all meant for budding pre-teen actors to grasp the meanings of her partial pantomimes.

“I don’t know, I just want to have fun and make it interesting and spice things up,” said Adams with a smile hidden beneath her mask.

On one day recently, she had about 12 students in the classroom, and one joining virtually. She plays to both without missing a beat.

“I can see you, but they can’t see you,” she said, signaling to her classroom students. “So I’m gonna show you the card and you can act it out as well, but then I have to not look at you when I look at the card.”

Got it? Short attention spans are welcome here, as Adams acts out the words, and her students quickly guess her flamboyant interpretations. Adams lets loose, and her class eats up the energy. But she always seems to have more in her tank. All of this from a young woman who claims to be an introvert.

“Theater Arts totally saved my life. Only through the pretending, did I actually become comfortable with speaking my mind and my own feelings and communicating more effectively,” Adams said.

Fourteen months of the coronavirus pandemic has forced Adams to test the depths of her creativity.

“I feel like it’s been a constant shifting and changing, and you know, just take it as it comes, whatever the changes are, you just adapt,” Adams said.

So, her staged lessons have also been adapted for the computer screen.

“Getting to make all of the fun instructional videos was a challenge, but it was a super fun challenge, and so like the second you’re having fun with something it doesn’t even feel frustrating or like work anymore. You know it’s your passion.”

Adams is passionate about her role as teacher. Her energetic scenes resonate with her students.

“I’m not worried about hamming it up and getting cheesy. I think that’s perfectly fine, especially for this age group,” she said.

This approach contrasts with her training as an actor — one that sometimes took Adams to uncomfortable depths of her own experience.

“In college, I played some roles that were really gritty, and there was a push to be really connected as an actor, and I was a very young actor and the push was to connect emotionally to those roles, and it kind of took me to a dark place because you’re dealing with ‘A Lie of the Mind’ from Sam Shepard. Gritty text and dark gritty circumstances that you’re trying to link your own trauma to the trauma of that character, and I just felt that was not for me,” Adams said.

But teaching is a different act, altogether.

“It doesn’t feel like work,” Adams said.

The 12-year-old imagination takes Adams to a different place, one where she wants to remain for a long time.

“I really enjoy the company of young people. I like the energy of young people. It helps keep me young, I hope.”

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