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Airbus mentors hope to inspire Brooks middle-schoolers

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Monday, Sep. 24, 2012, at 5:55 p.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, May 28, 2013, at 6:18 a.m.

Chris Burrell wants to learn about the past and future of aviation, but he needs someone to teach him.

Na-Kayla Cooks said she knows her grades haven’t been what they should be.

“I figured it’s time for a change,” she said.

Help is on the way.

They were among 71 students from Brooks Technology and Arts Magnet Middle School who were at Exploration Place on Monday taking part in the launch of the Flying Challenge mentoring program, a partnership between Airbus and United Way of the Plains for this school year.

It’s designed to inspire students who are at risk of not graduating from high school or going to college to pursue degrees and possibly a career in the aviation industry.

“They’re middle-range students who just need a little push and attention,” Brooks principal Robert Garner said.

The students watched a live science show, toured the flight and design exhibit and viewed a 30-minute film on the future of flight.

During the school year, they will go on other field trips to see how professionals apply math and science every day. The program will conclude in May with each student getting a chance to fly in a small airplane after touring the National Center for Aviation Training.

But mentoring is at the heart of the program.

Starting next week, 48 employees of Airbus’ engineering facility in Wichita and 18 Wichita State University engineering students will go to Brooks for 40-minute mentoring sessions with the students during the lunch periods. They will be in two-person teams and work with two or three students at a time by helping them set goals, giving assistance in their studies or just talking to them.

Monday gave the mentors a chance to mingle with the students.

“We’re going to learn as much as they are,” said Jeff Carpenter, an Airbus engineer. “If we don’t show our interest in them, they’re not going to have any interest.”

Airbus engineer Rebecca Mitchell said, “It’s good to give back and get them excited about engineering, especially the girls. It’s still a male-dominated field, but it’s been good to me.”

Cameron Gardner, an eighth-grader, is eager to get started.

“I can’t wait to learn about airplanes,” he said.

Airbus contributed $250,000 to United Way of the Plains to run the program for the first time in the United States. The same program was conducted last year for the first time for 25 students in Toulouse, France, where Airbus has its headquarters. It was considered a success.

“Hopefully, this will be your first day in the aviation industry,” said Barry Eccleston, CEO of Airbus Americas, the North and Latin America division of the company based in Herndon, Va. “We hope people like you will be following me in aviation.”

Eccleston, a former Royal Air Force Reserves engineer, said the need for engineers isn’t being met by those graduating in the field in both the United States and Europe.

Organizers hope to increase the number of WSU students so the program can grow to include 85 Brooks students, said Luella Sanders, who is coordinating the program for the United Way.

As it is, the number of mentors available for the Brooks students in the Flying Challenge program “is unheard of,” said Suzanne Graham, president and CEO of Communities in Schools, a nonprofit that helps at-risk students in a variety of ways in the Wichita, Haysville, Derby and Valley Center school districts.

Communities in Schools’ goal is to get a mentor for 50 percent of the students at risk, Graham said. Last year, only about 300 mentors were available for the 1,500 students it served.

Flying Challenge will have almost a mentor for each student.

“This program is a dream come true,” she said.

Reach Rick Plumlee at 316-268-6660 or rplumlee@wichitaeagle.com.

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