High above Washington D.C., Preston Smith pilots his plane. Air traffic control says in his ears, “As soon as it says climb, you may climb.”
Watching the view in front of him, sees it’s time to take off and reaches for the controls.
A big smile flows across his face.
Ten-year-old Preston and his fellow students from Stevenson Elementary School are spending the day at Mesa Unified School District’s Flight Center at Salk Elementary School. It is one of two operated by the district to show fifth graders practical uses of the math and science they learn.
Preston’s flight path will take him by the White House, Washington Monument and Capitol Building, all seen on the large 55-inch monitor in front of the plane simulator.
Guiding his way will be the Salk Flight Instructor Diana LeSueur, who dresses in a pilot’s outfit on the days Mesa teachers bring their students to the Flight Center.
When students arrive, they’re walked through a very set curriculum, learning about the controls on a plane, testing their skills in “ground school” on Hartel Trainers, discovering how scientific theories – such as Bernoulli’s Principle - work; and then climbing into plane and helicopter simulators.
Boeing volunteers built the software and the simulators. Last month, they installed the television monitor for the plane simulator. Before, LeSueur said, she would just describe where students were flying to and they would have to use their imagination.
The new visual impact is a hit with the students.
“It was the most amazing thing. It felt like I was really in a plane,” Preston said after his short flight. “The turning felt like I was really in the air.
For Preston, who has never been on a plane, it was his first experience with “flight.”
First-year teacher Paige Odom brought her students to the school after hearing so much about it.
“They are coming up to me and saying, ‘I love this place. It’s so fun,’” she said. “It is a fun way to teach the standards. They’re having the time of their lives.”
Volunteers help LeSueur run the two simulators while parents help different groups of students through the stations.
Amber Thompson attended the field trip with her daughter, Maliyah, 10. The young fifth-grader has been around planes her entire life since her dad is a plane mechanic, Amber said. The Flight Center was still a huge hit.
“She gets more of an understanding of what her dad does. She sees what he’s working on and understands it more,” Amber said.
Mike Pope, a retired flight engineer from Boeing, volunteers his time working with the helicopter simulators at both the Salk and Lowell centers. He was recently honored by the district governing board for his five-years of volunteering.
“I teach the children about the principals of helicopter flight then give them an opportunity to ‘fly,’ if you will, the helicopter simulator,” he said.
Pope said the daylong lessons really opens the window to what a career as a pilot may look like and may encourage students to think aviation as a future career.
“I think it’s good we give children this experience. Without this, I don’t think a lot of children would consider it down the road when they’re looking for a career,” he said. “If nothing else, it gives them something to think about.”
Pope said he continues to volunteer for the Flight Centers because he believes it helps boost education.
“Let’s face it. There’s a lot lacking in education these days form what the government isn’t giving to it,” he said. “Those of us who can (help), do.”
The first flight center opened in 2000 at Salk.
Boeing contributes in many ways to the district’s science programs. Last month, The Boeing Company presented a $115,000 grant to fund training for more than 100 teachers in a program called Engineering is Elementary. It was designed by Boston’s Museum of Science and helps teach students engineering through problem solving. Students will design bridges, water filters, lighting systems, biomedical devices, electrical circuits and other everyday items. The program also meets the state’s academic standards and the national Common Core Standards adopted by Arizona.
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