What do you have when you bring together a dozen airplanes, one police helicopter, two fire trucks, a bouncy house, lunch, and a free T-shirt — all topped off by a jaw-dropping airshow? Maybe the best field trip a kindergartner ever took.
Actually, make that 600 kindergartners.
A teeming mass of children from the Ervin Early Learning Center were invited Oct. 6 to the interactive aviation adventure at Lee’s Summit Municipal Airport for Take Flight Kansas City’s sixth annual Fly Day field trip.
Take Flight is a nonprofit organization founded by local entrepreneur and pilot, Austen Plain.
“An experience like this can give children the ability to dream,” said Connie Brennan, a kindergarten teacher at Ervin for the past 12 years. “You never know what it will spark in a child. Kids can do amazing things given the opportunity and, the more we increase the opportunities, the more likely they will.”
Sparks certainly were flying on Friday for the awestruck kindergartners.
The professional airshow performed by the Kansas City Flight Team was the highlight, but the children also met with Lee’s Summit police officers and firefighters, toured fire trucks, and played the role of “pilot” in airplane cockpits stationed in the hangar.
Brennan said many schools have stopped or limited field trips in recent years, believing they aren’t educationally valuable or lack sufficient impact on the students.
In 2011, after taking several flights with her son on Plain’s plane, Brennan thought about her students’ lack of real-life experiences. She wondered what it would be like for them to experience the world of aviation and that led to a conversation with Plain.
“Connie shared that the students in her district were an under-served community because of lack of funding and they didn’t even have a field trip,” Plain said. “Connie became the inspiration for this event.”
Plain agreed that an airport field trip might be a great opportunity to introduce kids to aviation and interact with students who had little knowledge of or experience with airplanes. The idea for an airport field trip was born as Plain and Brennan brainstormed to make Fly Day a reality.
“The biggest power we can give our children today is experiences that can inform them when they are writing, creating, and working,” Brennan said. “They derive everything from experience and can much better relate and learn the things in the world we are trying to teach them.”
Although the event is an interactive aviation learning experience, the airshow never fails to amaze — eliciting cheers, clapping, laughter, and countless hugs for the Kansas City Flight Team pilots, who greeted the young fans after the airshow.
“This is fun, and it’s why we do this,” said Mark Edwards, a 20-year veteran pilot and member of the Kansas City Flight Team. “We show kids the can do anything they want to do.”
Fly Day is just one of many events and initiatives spearheaded by Take Flight, whose mission also includes providing children and adults with physical and mental disabilities opportunities to experience cultural and community activities.
“I have a passion for working with people who have disabilities and there is a big void in taking care of those with special needs who live in placement homes,” Plain said. “I started Take Flight Kansas City to provide a new level of care and experience for them.”
Take Flight partners with area groups and organizations, such as the Kansas City Zoo, to create fun events that are free to attend for special needs persons and their staffs.
In addition to creating social and cultural opportunities for those with special needs, Take Flight also purchases and provides homes for those who require around the clock care and their staffs.
The organization plans to expand its interactive aviation learning experiences for local children of all ages and abilities.
“I love aviation and any chance I get to share that with kids,” Plain said. “One of the best parts is when the kids get into the cockpit of the plane and they get to experience being in the captain’s seat. The looks on their faces — they are so happy.”