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Baltimore public school students taught to aim high for aviation careers

After being strapped into a single engine Cessna Skyhawk and soaring above the city of Baltimore, local student Christian Baten said it was amazing.

“I felt above all of my problems,” said Baten.

His experience in a free summer program in partnership between the city’s park department and the Maryland Aviation Administration spurred inspiration to consider a career in aviation.

And that was the goal organizers said as students prepared to take a plane ride from the Martin State Airport in Middle River on Thursday morning.

About 50 students were hosted from Baltimore city schools this summer to explore careers in aviation and transportation through the Baltimore Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport Summer Youth Initiative.

Between 2015 and 2019 about 50 students each year have gone through the program, which was paused until this summer because of the coronavirus pandemic. The program was created after Freddie Gray died while in police custody and unrest across the city sparked riots and peaceful protests.

“We thought at the airport that it would be beneficial if we could do something to expose kids to a different environment,” said Ricky Smith, executive director of the BWI airport.

For many children, this was their first taste of flying high in the sky.

Adriel Jennings had never been on an airplane before. The 12-year-old said he was “pretty worried at first” but that it “wasn’t too bad.”

Blake Berry, 11, described his experience in the air as “crazy” and said he felt his stomach drop while in the air.

Students were excited to soar over tree tops, rivers and see Baltimore City and Love Point from the windows.

Fellow student Zaiden Warrior, said he’ll think about aviation as a career if the NBA doesn’t work out.

Tyresha McClenney, a counselor with the department of recreation and parks, said her experience working with students throughout the week has been amazing and fulfilling.

“Just to see the joy on the kids' faces. Some of these kids haven't even been inside of an airport,” McClenney said.

While the flight was the highlight for many students this week, they also learned about a variety of careers within transportation and aviation.

Earlier this week, students met with BWI Airport Fire and Rescue Department, law enforcement, airport operations and maintenance employees, airline workers and TSA personnel.

They also visited Community College of Baltimore County to learn about their aviation technology program and climb into a flying simulator.

For 12-year-old Makailah Kissler her favorite part was watching the fire department extinguish fires during a staged emergency.

They put a fire on and then the fire trucks came and put it out. But the fire won that fight,” Kissler laughed. “So it took 'em a little while to put it out.”

Kissler said she thought she wanted to be a teacher, but is now interested in a career as a firefighter or pilot.

For the top official who now oversees the BWI airport, it was not a familiar childhood experience and it wasn't until he was an adult that he flew in an airplane.

“As a kid who also grew up in Baltimore City, I had never visited an airport,” said Smith.

Zshekinah Collier is WYPR’s 2022-2023 Report for America Corps Member, where she covers Education.
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