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Teacher Takes Flight to Inspire STEM Students

A federal grant issued last year to Winchester Public Schools is making it possible for John Kerr and Quarles Elementary School teachers to gain real-world insights into the aviation industry so, instead of just telling their students to reach for the sky, they can help them get there.

Cathryn Glavis, a first-grade teacher at John Kerr, hopped into a Cessna 172 Skyhawk at Winchester Regional Airport to learn first-hand about aerodynamics, communications, and everything else that goes along with flying a small plane. She can now show a video of the flight to her students and integrate her experience into aviation-related lesson plans.

To make that flight possible, Britt Miller, computer science integration and equity coach with Winchester Public Schools, reached out to a national nonprofit called STEM Flights, which is based at Winchester Regional Airport.

“We are dedicated to inspiring students to pursue aviation careers,” Carley Walker, director of development for STEM Flights, said about her organization. “We do that by pairing them with a pilot-mentor who is a volunteer in our organization, and they receive a flight experience at no cost.”

Glavis’ pilot-mentor was Nathan Welch, a corporate pilot and certified flight instructor who fell in love with aviation when he was a little boy watching the planes take off and touch down at Winchester Regional Airport. Welch walked Glavis through a pre-flight inspection of the Cessna, explaining the prop plane’s features and functions during the process.  

Once she landed, Glavis started developing lesson plans for her first-graders based on her flight experience and additional information that was provided to her by STEM Flights. The goal behind those lessons will be to inspire young minds to learn more about science-based careers such as design, engineering, cartography and other fields involved with aviation.

Funding for Glavis’ lessons and course materials will be sourced from a 2019 METRICS grant from the U.S. Department of Education. John Kerr and Quarles were selected last year to share the $4 million METRICS (Maximizing Engagement Through Regular Immersion in Computer Science) grant because they are Title I schools that offer a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) curriculum to more than 900 economically disadvantaged Winchester students.

“Part of the grant is STEM-mersions, where we’re putting teachers directly in a STEM field so they can get first-hand experience in something they can bring back to the classroom,” Miller said. “We’re supposed to be inspiring the next generation of STEM employees, but if we don’t have that experience, that first-hand interaction, it’s hard for us to bring the enthusiasm. ... I think it’s one of the best things we’re doing with the grant.”