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A smiling AHA student takes to the skies during her flight lesson
A smiling AHA student takes to the skies during her flight lesson

AHA encourages its students to literally soar with a unique program

Posted On: 2017-05-09 03:48 PM
From AZCentral.com...


At American Heritage Academy's campus in Camp Verde, Arizona, students are encouraged to shoot sky high with their ambitions—literally.

The school, which serves students from Kindergarten through 8th grade, recently introduced a one-of-a-kind opportunity to its community: allowing its students to fly a Cessna aircraft.

Yes, really. Middle school students were not only educated on the history of aviation dating back to the Wright Brothers, but were also able to take over the controls while in the air, all before getting their driver's license.

Education takes to the skies

Just this year, Principal Lance Barnes brought the opportunity to his students via the Wright Flight program. AHA students took flight on April 1st after completing eight lessons and passing a safety exam with at least a score of 85%.

"The kids talk about it [for months] as they get ready to do it, then work towards that goal and are eventually rewarded with the fly day," Barnes said. "I think it's a great experience for the kids, truly."

In addition to meeting the requirements of the program itself, Barnes elaborated, students are required to set and meet an academic goal in tandem. This means raising one subject by a full letter grade to get the all-clear to fly, he said.

"When [my family and I] heard about the Wright Flight program, we were absolutely excited," Sara Dawson, a teacher at AHA whose daughter participated in the most recent fly day, said.

Dawson explained that students who participated in the program have to make a commitment to meet their academic goals, as well as fulfill the requirements of the program itself, including learning about flight safety, the Wright Brothers and aviation history.

According to Wright Flight founder and executive director Robin Stoddard, the idea for the program was sparked in the early 1980s. As a young fighter-pilot Stoddard saw how the airplanes sparked excitement in young people, ultimately leading to the creation of the non-profit tax-exempt 501(c)(3) in 1986. The program operates in several states and has flown over 30,000 children, and the experiences Wright Flight instructors described were nothing short of life-changing.

When her daughter, Ana, touched down after her flight earlier this month, Dawson said, she was "absolutely ecstatic." Dawson said her daughter had the opportunity to help with the takeoff, complete a turn and was really "coached through" by the Wright Flight instructor.

"She wanted to just turn around and go right back out there," Dawson said.

An opportunity like this one is invaluable for the students at AHA, Dawson explained. "This really teaches them about so much, and gives them an opportunity to do something that they wouldn't normally get to do," Dawson said. "It changes their motivation and direction towards a goal-oriented path, and it really expands their horizons." Though not every student who participated is dead set on pursuing a career in aviation, for one AHA student who took off during this latest fly day, this cemented his dream of becoming a pilot, she said.

Though this was the first time the Wright Flight program touched down at AHA, the once in a lifetime experience is emblematic of how the school approaches education—by creating unique opportunities for its students that are reflective of its community-minded principles and grounded in U.S. history.

Traditional values and progress-oriented teachings

"What sets the school apart is the core values of American Heritage Academy," Kimberly Martin, PTO President and a governing board member at AHA, said. "From Kindergarten to 8th grade the students are taught what it takes to be a leader and are set up for success. AHA believes in the core values of the Constitution. We still say the Pledge of Allegiance, and believe that all men and women are created equal and each student is in control of his or her own destiny."

Whether it's learning to fly a Cessna or getting to participate in a community service day to beautify its community, the school's students have the school's core tenets carefully instilled in them through life-changing experiences, observers say.

"The values we are attempting to instill in our students are hard work and community service," Martin said. "If that is serving on town council or serving in the military with hard work and education our students can achieve whatever they set out to accomplish."

With the variety of the programs offered at the school, which also include trash pickup days and food drives, the key values of patriotism and honoring history are always center stage.

"These programs help build self-confidence, courage and esteem," Martin said. "By introducing kids to our historians whether it [is] pilots from the Wright Flight program or politicians from town council these influential members of our society highlight what is possible and give the students an avenue to ask questions and experience what might interest them."

Small classes, big impact

Small class sizes and around 160 students enrolled in the school overall also allow for a more focused attention from teachers that clears the way for students to flourish.

"American Heritage Academy has smaller class sizes and a more personal attention to the student," Martin said. "While building on teamwork and being an integral part of a team AHA also provides for each student to be an individual and be unique in his or her own way." In this way, American Heritage Academy fosters its own, welcoming community while encouraging students to become active citizens outside the classroom.

Dawson describes the school as one that has "a very familial feeling."

"The kids really watch out for each other...and the focus of the school is really to promote collaboration and cooperation," she continued. "There's an emphasis on making [the students] aware and engaged in contributing to their community...and really being part of the big picture."

Explore American Heritage Academy — Campe Verde to encourage your child to take flight in academics, community outreach and beyond.

Members of the editorial and news staff of the USA TODAY Network were not involved in the creation of this content.



Photos: A smiling AHA student takes to the skies during her flight lesson