On April 10, Dr. Judy Skupa traded her stylish business suit and heels for a warm jacket and goggles. The Cherry Creek Schools assistant superintendent climbed into a 1942 Boeing Stearman PT 17 Biplane, an open cockpit plane used to train U.S. military pilots during World War II. Skupa then took off on a flight over the south metro area. At that moment, she joined 46 Cherry Creek Schools teachers and one other administrator as Teacher Envoys in the Wings Over the Rockies Teacher Flight Program.
“I had to overcome, like many of the teachers who have participated in this flight experience, a hesitation about flying in a small, open, two-seater plane,” Skupa said. “The flight was exhilarating and freeing. Literally, from the 8,000-foot view, I was able to see the vastness of our city and the beauty of our mountains, a very different perspective than from a commercial jet. I am ready to do it again!”
Skupa, who is assistant superintendent for performance improvement, wanted to learn more about the innovative program that inspires students to new heights through the wonders of flight. The program, launched in 2011 by the Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum, is open to one teacher from every public and private school along the Front Range. Teachers who participate gain access to many resources for their students, including information on aerospace programs for students, curriculum and career opportunities, high school and college student internships and scholarships, and museum programs and events.
Hetty Carlson, the Teacher Flight Program coordinator, says the program is designed to inspire students by first inspiring their teachers about the limitless possibilities that flight represents.
“Imagine that teacher going back to the classroom with that flight-inspired excitement - wow!” said Carlson. “To be able to plant a seed in a child's life, to uncover their hopes, dreams, passions...for them to know that IT IS POSSIBLE, no dream is too big, or out of reach, or unattainable - only then will we have fulfilled our mission.”
Dakota Valley Elementary STEM teacher Beth Cohen got involved with the program in 2013 and says the impact it has had on her students is “phenomenal.” She’s such a strong believer in the program and the many ways it benefits students that she was asked to speak at the December 2014 groundbreaking for the museum’s “Exploration of Flight” exhibit at Centennial Airport.
Watch Cohen's flight here.
“There are lessons that cannot be taught but are learned through the sharing of experiences,” Cohen said. “As mentors to our students, through this program we are able to bring to them experiences which offer an education not only in aviation and aerospace but in humanity, in heart, in leadership and perseverance. In pursuing our dreams and recognizing the importance and beauty of exploring the unexplored. My students have had the most memorable and life-changing opportunities through this program.”
Dr. Skupa says the program complements STEM education in Cherry Creek Schools.
“Students are engaged in learning about important scientific and engineering concepts,” Skupa said. “But most importantly, students learn about the importance of having a dream and persevering toward that dream. Through this collaborative venture we strive to have Cherry Creek Schools students follow the museum’s mantra and join the explorers, discoverers, and achievers of tomorrow.”
For more information about the Wings Over the Rockies Teacher Flight Program, visit http://www.wingsteacherflight.org/. For more information about the Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum, visit http://wingsmuseum.org/.