Summer School (Part 3): What We Learn

In-Flight! was a weeklong summer workshop designed to show minority high school students what it was like to go to college and learn about aviation. The students in the program completed at least a dozen projects — like learning to navigate using a Sectional Chart, making and launching their own rocket, and making an aviation history time-line. But we also wanted the students to read. The idea was to have every student read the same book so that later they could talk about it together. I selected one of my favorite books: Richard Bach’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull. JLS is short, so there would be plenty of time to read the book. JLS is about flight, so it tied in with the theme of the week. But JLS is also about life and how to live it. Now I am no literary expert, so for the In-Flight! workshop, I brought in someone who is an expert to teach what became known as the Reading Lyceum. The literature project was lead by Dr. Dorothy V. Craig. She takes the story from here…

In order to provide all In-Flight! students with a true college experience, we wanted to create a “learning community” through activities and literature. Since all incoming freshmen at Middle Tennessee State University are required to read a selected literature book, it seemed natural to follow this tradition with the In-Flight! students. Once JLS was selected, we matched it with two other short stories that presented flight as “freedom to achieve.” Although this theme is found in many pieces of literature, we felt that, “The People Could Fly,” and Tar Beach would compliment JLS and provide an avenue for students to explore the limitless scope that aviation could bring them in terms of career paths, achieving goals, and future success.

The People Could Fly” — told by Virginia Hamilton — is a traditional African American tale carried on in the oral tradition from the days of slavery. In the story, “flying” is seen as a means to rise above the hardships of everyday life. In the story, Tar Beach by Faith Ringgold, two African American children take an imaginary flight over the city in order to relieve themselves of the burdens brought on by racial discrimination.

An initial meeting was held with the students. Books and materials were distributed and each student was asked, “What does flight mean to you?” After the initial meeting, students were given time throughout the day to read. Each evening after dinner, participants engaged in the Reading Lyceum. The idea of the “lyceum” was taken from the earliest form of community lifelong learning established by educators in the late 1800s. The Lyceum — held in the MTSU library and in an outdoor classroom area on campus — enabled participants to explore flight both metaphorically and as a possible career path.

Participants were encouraged to share opinions, goals, and dreams as well as to discuss the symbolism presented in the three pieces of literature. The Lyceum sessions culminated in group Socratic Seminars where participants challenged each other through dialog and discussion of all three pieces. The seminars were a big success. As one student put it, “the message is that we should never be ordinary — we should strive for success … always.


On the last night of the In-Flight! workshop, the students were asked to fill out some surveys, but not to use their names. I’ll conclude by letting the students do the talking:

This experience was not like I thought it would be. I had more fun learning than I thought I could.

My experience with In-Flight! was great. In-Flight! has changed my outlook on life a lot. The counselors were wonderful, just as the classes, the facilitators, etc. This changed my life dramatically and now I’m going to be on the correct path.

I would not trade this experience for the world. This has opened my eyes up to not only a new future career but it has convinced me that I will be able to make it in college. I loved the people, activities, and counselors. I love this program and will never forget this experience.

I will tell my friends that it was so, so, so fun. It was the best thing all summer!!!

It was the best thing for my summer too! Do us all a favor this summer, take a teenager to the airport and get them on ‘the correct path.