Flying Classroom Launches An After-School STEM Initiative for Student Learners in Virginia


 Opportunities for Hands-On And Virtual Learning Experiences Through Culturally Relevant Role Models

How can ALL kids become STEM-enthusiasts? After all, science, technology,  engineering and math[STEM]  Present opportunities for them to create, design, imagine and experience learning by placing ‘mirrors’ before them to demonstrate reality-based relatability. It’s a downright inspired teaching strategy for captivating the most vulnerable learners who often  sit ‘outside’ of the mainstream and attend lower income and under-performing schools.  

In Virginia’s Richmond and Henrico County,  hundreds of school students recently participated in virtual expeditions and other after-school STEM adventures and projects thanks to a wonderfully inspired partnership between Virginia Department of Education[VDOE] and Flying Classroom.

Flying Classroom is a supplemental STEM+ curriculum based on the global expeditions of pioneering African American aviator Barrington Irving. In 2007, Irving achieved two world records by becoming the youngest pilot and first African American to complete a solo flight around the world. Irving, who turned down football scholarships to pursue his dream of becoming an aviator, founded Flying Classroom in 2014 to introduce students to STEM career possibilities.

Visit the official Flying Classroom website to enlighten and inspire!

Through Flying Classroom, students accompany Irving on his expeditions and explore real-life applications of academic content in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and the humanities.

On Monday, November 16, 2020, Irving delivered 350 Flying Classroom STEM kits for participating students during a fly-in event at the Richmond Jet Center.

The partners of this event included Captain Barrington Irving, Flying Classroom; Jason Kamras, Superintendent, Richmond Public Schools; Beth Teigen, Deputy Superintendent, Henrico County Public Schools; Mike Taylor, CEO, Henrico Education Foundation; Jeanine Turner, Program Director, NextUp RVA; David Eshelman, Director of Career and Technical Education, VDOE; and Randall Johnson, Title II/IV Specialist, VDOE

The fly-in was conducted in compliance with CDC and Virginia Department of Health guidelines for physical distancing and COVID-19 prevention.

“I want to thank Captain Irving and Flying Classroom for partnering with VDOE to provide these exciting learning opportunities for students in 21st Century Community Learning Centers,” Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane said. “Flying Classroom will open windows to the world and introduce students to the unlimited possibilities that await in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. And I know students will be inspired by Captain Irving’s many accomplishments and his amazing life story.”

The STEM kits allow students at eight 21st Century Community Learning Centers at schools in Richmond and Henrico County to participate in virtual expeditions, adventures and challenges based on Irving’s career and accomplishments, including catching snakes in the Amazon, exploring glaciers and HALO (high-altitude, low-opening) parachute jumping. The kits also include at-home activities for students aligned with Virginia’s academic standards.

In the spring, students at after-school learning centers  in Richmond, and  Henrico County will be challenged to construct a Dodge Daytona STEM vehicle designed by Factory Five Racing Inc. The goal of the Flying Classroom Automotive Car Build program is to improve student attendance and engagement, and introduce students to careers in the automotive industry.

At the conclusion of the car-build project, Flying Classroom’s 18-wheel Mobile Auto Lab will visit all of the 21st Century Community Learning Centers in the commonwealth.

VDOE is supporting the initiative with $250,000 in funding from the commonwealth’s 21st Century Learning Centers federal grant. Other partners include Virginia Commonwealth University, the Wendell Scott Foundation, Richmond Raceway, Henrico County Public Schools, the Henrico Education Foundation, NextUp RVA and Richmond Public Schools.

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The federally funded 21st Century Community Learning Centers program supports the creation of opportunities for academic enrichment during non-school hours for children, particularly students who attend high-poverty and low-performing schools. The program helps students meet state and local standards in core academic subjects, such as reading and mathematics; offers students enrichment activities that complement regular academic programs; and offers literacy and other educational services to the families of participating children.

Every  school district- just ought to ramp up their offerings for learners and their families and provide real-life relevant instruction, hands-on learning experiences, and deliver inspiration, increased life and career options and ‘mirrors’ to communities who see life and themselves through too many windows.

We, as parents and educators, spend more than enough  time placing windows in front of children, amidst an underlying assumption that children will which is particularly impactful to children of color. Impacting their self-image, self-esteem, and limiting the natural inclination to dream without boundaries, the absence of the introduction of brilliant achievers who look like them works to perpetuate the ‘status quo’. ALL children need exposure to black and brown excellence…as a naturally-occurring example of equity, possibilities, and less rigid views on race and ethnicity.

Event such as these are not, no, should not be, rare opportunities to turn the world, as taught, upside down. It is actually right side up. When deliberate, intentional, carefully planned, and collaborative, lower income community schools and educators can teach to a fully engaged audience. I am deeply moved and encouraged by the state of Virginia’s walking the talk  in the desire for excellence through equity.

This year, reaching a few hundred learners, can be next year’s few thousand, and so forth. Promoting STEM and careers tied to these areas of learning, and in such ways as offered by Flying Classroom, sparks new interests, hones skills and broadens worldviews. We now stand in the doorway of real change in the learning landscape and since education is closely tied to income and earning potential, we must expand our adult creative capacity.

From the protests of late, screams for social justice in all forms, children must no longer be pigeon-holed into narrowly defined boxes. If we don’t dream big for our children, all of them, we are wrong to expect that they will sit in a classroom and dream big for themselves-not without exposure, involvement and relevant figures to show, not just tell them.  So proud am I that the South is rising towards righting generations of wrongs, and is demonstrating  in education that representation is key. This is STEM at its best!

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