By Leah Todd
With one hand on the open door, Sagewood Elementary School teacher Amanda Reinhardt hoisted herself into the cockpit of a 2007 Cessna Skylane.
Cool and collected, Reinhardt shared the helm with veteran pilot Col. John Mitchell, a wing commander with an Air Force auxiliary called the Civil Air Patrol.
Well above 1,000 feet from the dry Casper ground and with the plane’s engine humming happily, Mitchell’s voice crackled into Reinhardt’s headset, telling her to tip the nose of the plane skyward to clear Casper Mountain.
Reinhardt eased the controls toward her with both hands, and all she could see was sky.
Reinhardt, 30, said she signed up for the Civil Air Patrol’s Teacher Orientation Program without knowing exactly what she was getting herself into. But the chance to co-pilot a jaunt in a Civil Air Patrol plane fit perfectly with the “hands-on” teaching practices Reinhardt tries to bring to her fourth-grade classroom.
“My philosophy and my belief is getting kids out to do whatever it is we’re learning,” Reinhardt said.
Reinhardt, two years into a master’s program studying place-based education, was one of three Natrona County teachers participating in the Civil Air Patrol’s event Saturday at the Casper/Natrona County International Airport.
The program’s goal, according to Mitchell, was to encourage teachers to use aviation exercises — like aerodynamics, climatology and weight distribution — to teach science and math.
“It’s a way to make science and math more exciting; to have real world examples and real world applications,” Mitchell said. “And not just memorize a bunch of formulas.”
A civilian-staffed relative of the Air Force, the Civil Air Patrol is a nonprofit organization that runs search and rescue missions, trains cadet pilots and promotes aerospace education.
Twenty-two senior members and 13 12- to 19-year-old cadets make up Casper’s branch of the Civil Air Patrol, whose search and rescue volunteers have made seven finds and 10 saves so far in 2012. Statewide, 167 senior members and 96 cadets are registered volunteers with the Civil Air Patrol.
Saturday marked the Casper Civil Air Patrol’s second annual Teacher Orientation Program. Besides actual flight time, teachers also toured the Wyoming Veterans Memorial Museum and an air traffic control tower, and experienced a flight simulator at Casper College’s flight school.
“The intent…is a better exposure to another way to excite students about learning,” said search and rescue pilot and Kelly Walsh High School educator Joe Feiler.
Careers in aviation are on the rise, Feiler said, citing the increased use of drones in nonmilitarized airspace and the potential for drones to monitor big-game populations. And the next generation of aviation technology won’t develop itself; the Civil Air Patrol hopes to be a part of educating future aircraft engineers and innovators.
District instructional coach Sue Simons and Kelly Walsh industrial arts teaching assistant Brett Morton both said they would continue to be in touch with the Civil Air Patrol.
“I’m hoping to hook up with teachers like [Reinhardt] that really want to do it,” Simons said. “Aviation-related homework, get [kids] up in the planes, the whole thing.”
Reinhardt said her fourth-graders could do the math to complete the weight distribution form Civil Air Patrol officials walked her through before her flight. She hopes an assignment like calculating weight balance on an aircraft would provide an exciting, real-world context to ease any drudgery of boring math homework.
“If I can attach whatever I’m teaching out of this book to something that’s out in the real world, then [students]…can connect that learning,” Reinhardt said.
“In life, you don’t learn out of a book.”