Aviation programs continue to take flight in Renton schools. The latest one? Helping high school students get their pilot’s license.
The Boeing Employee Flight Association (BEFA) teamed up with Renton School District to allow Lindbergh High School and Renton High School students to take a 11-week course where they learn what it takes to fly in the sky, for free. Students received five college credits through Renton Technical College, and also got 0.5 high school credits, which helped one of the students graduate on time.
This year, eight students completed the program, after two dropped the class in the beginning. The group was evenly divided by both schools, and by young men and women attending. Students turned in applications to BEFA, and all 10 were approved.
The group ended up having kids from a variety of GPAs, backgrounds and family lives. One student was homeless during the program, but still able to attend thanks to it being free.
BEFA was looking to get younger people involved with general aviation, which is often full of those who are older and financially able to support private flying.
Harium Martin-Morris, retired Boeing employee, BEFA secretary and former Seattle school board director, helped the program connect to different kinds of kids. Martin-Morris said they wanted to reach kids who might be “C” students, or never felt something like this was possible.
Lindbergh senior Kendall Moses wanted to see if he had what it takes to get his pilot’s license. He said he’s also wanted to be an aviation mechanic for four years, so this gave him the opportunity to see what’s available in that field.
The course was 20 minutes after school got out, at a classroom at Renton Municipal Airport. Moses said he remembers the first day seeing a variety of pilots presenting about themselves, and getting right into the lessons.
Lindbergh sophomore Marina Vasilchuk had just been interested in becoming a pilot — her brother joined a flight school just a month before the new Renton course started. Before that, she didn’t think it was an attainable goal. She was the youngest student in the program, and turned 16 during the class, which is the age requirement for the pilot’s exam.
“I never really talked about flying with anybody else because no one was interested, then once I came into this environment they’re more encouraging: they did it, so they tell you what you need to do,” Vasilchuk said.
It was the same course as the adult pilots take, BEFA President Bob Ingersoll said, but with a little more excitement thrown into it. Learning ways to keep the high school students engaged has actually helped influence how the regular course will be taught now, Martin-Morris said.
Ingersoll said they wanted to enhance exposure to Renton youth to aviation. Luckily, they received enough donations from members of BEFA to be able to offer the course for free, and the final Federal Aviation Administration private pilot exam for free, which is optional for kids who’ve completed the course and usually $125.
The flight instructors also taught the course for less pay, and some even donated the pay they made back into the program, BEFA Operations Manager Wes McKechnie said.
From there, association member Martin-Morris connected with the Renton School District and worked with school counselors to reach out to a spectrum of students.
“All these things tell you we are really committed to making sure next generation of aviation enthusiasts are created in our little incubator,” Martin-Morris said.
Moses said he studied every night for the two-day a week course, and it got harder the longer it went. He pushed himself, thanks to being inspired by meeting pilots, including an astronaut, Nicholas Patrick.
Vasilchuk said she was surprised to know she had to learn weather patterns, coordinates for a flight, and then being a pilot started to feel possible for her. She’s hoping to take the FAA test over the summer.
The ultimate goal, BEFA Operations Manager Wes McKechnie said, is to help the students who are interested go through all the testing to where they can be a flight instructor, and move on to an aviation career.
“Let’s say they don’t do that: that’s OK. They’ve had an experience here they can take and mold it,” McKechnie said. “Lot of times you plant these seeds and they don’t come out until their 30 years old.”
One example is Martin-Morris, he said he wanted to learn to fly when he was 14, but he didn’t start flying until 60.
Vasilchuk wants to explore the scholarship opportunities, and was really taken to how open the instructors were to helping her with the next steps in becoming a pilot. Her plan is to use that opportunity.
BEFA plans to run this program again next spring hoping to reach out to more students in the Renton schools and possibly make the program worth an applied science credit, to help students reach the recently heightened graduation requirements.
More information on BEFA is available at befa.org.