Education and possibility soared to new heights at South Whidbey Elementary School this week.
About 125 fourth graders were treated to a visit by a Robinson R44 helicopter. It landed on the soccer field behind the school, and a Whidbey pilot spent about one hour giving small groups of students a presentation of the aircraft and how it works.
Designed to make an impression on young students, the loud and memorable display was the conclusion of supporting curriculum and together appeared to do just what they were supposed to do — foster a sense of wonder and interest in helicopters.
“They’re cool, and I want to fly one,” said Lizzy Schnabel, 9.
Already dreaming of one day taking to the skies, Lizzy said seeing the aircraft in action and recent class materials inspired her to seriously consider a future career as a pilot.
“I want to do emergency flying [medical transport] because you can help people,” she said.
Fourth-grade teacher Rachel Kizer began coordinating the landing with school district officials following a classroom visit this past December by Barry Pomeroy, a commercial pilot and Bayview resident. Pomeroy’s son is one of Kizer’s students and he was there for the anniversary of the Wright Brothers first flight, which the class was studying.
Kizer, who has a personal interest in the topic as her brother is a retired military helicopter pilot, saw the opportunity for a powerful teaching tool and jumped. The past few months were busy navigating all the red tape associated with a helicopter landing on school property, but it was worth the headache, she said.
While the logistics were being worked out, classes studied helicopter history, how they work and even made small, hand-held models that rotate to the floor when thrown. Career exploration is also an educational objective, and students gained a grasp of the many different jobs for helicopter pilots, from tour and utility work to flying medical or news choppers.
As for the visit, the goal was to accomplish the event safely, while educating and inspiring students. It went better than Kizer had hoped.
“Awesome,” Kizer said.
Pomeroy, who is in the process of opening his own business, Firefly Helicopter Service, rented the aircraft on his own dime from Helicopters Northwest in Seattle. He was accompanied by company pilot Charles Peiffer, and the bird touched down and took off to screams of delight from students.
It was the enthusiasm Pomeroy was hoping for. He grew up “dirt poor” but always had an interest in flying. The idea here was to spark the imagination and stoke possibility.
“You can see it, you can smell it; it makes you want to do it,” he said.
Sequoia Durham, 10, agreed.
“I thought it was sweet,” he said.