By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior writer, firstname.lastname@example.org
For two Riley Hospital schoolteachers whose feet are normally planted firmly on the ground, Aug. 19 was an adventure in the sky.
Candace McNabb and Tina Lynch became flying aces on a sunny Friday morning over Indy Executive Airport near Zionsville. Each took a turn at the controls, while Michael McGregory, Riley’s director of pharmacy and clinical nutrition, piloted the small plane.
They were participating in teacher orientation flights as part of a new partnership between the Civil Air Patrol and the Riley School Program to bring aerospace and STEM-related lessons into the classroom, or in this case, the hospital room.
McGregory holds the rank of captain and is director of operations for the Indiana Wing of the Civil Air Patrol. He got the wings in motion for this partnership, along with Lt. Col. Jamie Griffith, Indiana Wing Vice Commander and leader of the Indiana Schools Group for CAP.
The idea is to give teachers a taste of piloting a small aircraft to orient them to CAP’s aviation program so they can take that experience back to the classroom and translate it into lessons and activities provided by the Civil Air Patrol.
“It’s a really great program, especially for schools wanting to branch into STEM education (science, technology, engineering and math), where supplies tend to be fairly expensive and school budgets fairly tight,” Griffith said.
“This is a way for Civil Air Patrol to reach in with funding, activities and curriculum, and come alongside teachers to help them begin to implement STEM education and aerospace education in the classroom.”
McGregory spoke to Kristin Wikel, manager of Riley’s school program, early in the summer to see if she would be interested in participating in the ACE program (Aerospace Connections in Education), which offers a curriculum package to member teachers for use in their classrooms.
Wikel was all in, pleased to be able to offer Riley patients something beyond their usual school curriculum.
“Having access to things like STEM activities and robotics just brings more awareness of possible careers and stimulates patients’ brains,” she said. “Knowing there are things out there that maybe they haven’t had the opportunity to experience, this allows kids that freedom to explore and to use their brains in other ways.”
While online activities can help simulate a flight experience for students, there’s nothing like hearing from someone in person who has been in the cockpit and at the controls of a plane, Wikel said.
“Just giving them that exposure is so cool. Riley kids deserve access to this program.”
And the fact that McGregory reached out to pitch the ACE program, despite having nothing to do with Riley’s school program, reminded her of what is so special about Riley.
“It’s so cool that we can bring all the uniqueness of our employees here to help Riley kids,” Wikel said.
READY FOR TAKEOFF
So far, McNabb and Lynch are the only two teachers who have been up in the air, but Riley librarian Dena Vincent and teacher Lisa Truitt are scheduled to take flight next month. The hope is that all Riley educators will eventually participate.
McNabb, who works with patients on the inpatient rehab unit, and Lynch, who focuses on patients in behavioral health, said they were excited and a bit nervous before their training flight, which would take them above 3,500 feet in the air.
“Aaaa-mazing!” is how Lynch described it when she was back on the ground. “And terrifying.”
It had been years since she’d been up in a small plane, but to take control of the aircraft was exhilarating, she said. McGregory even got clearance from Air Traffic Control to pass over Riley Hospital during the flight.
At one point when Lynch was up front (the two teachers switched off riding in front and back), McGregory instructed her to take the controls while they were cruising at 150 miles per hour.
“He held his hands up, and said, ‘You’re doing it!’ He would tell us where to look and how to gauge where we were with the horizon,” Lynch said. “He made it very scientific, explaining all the controls and the bumps in the air.”
IT’S ALL FOR THE KIDS
As a teacher in a pediatric hospital setting, Lynch said she and her colleagues are always looking for activities to keep kids’ minds engaged, particularly on school breaks.
“I find that the STEM activities provide my kiddos an opportunity to try things and be successful, and that leads to conversations about career paths,” she said. “It piques their interest, and they can have fun with math, velocity, gravity – it’s all wrapped up in this.”
McNabb said it is exciting to have access to the STEM kits, robotics and instructional aids, especially for kids doing school in a nontraditional setting. On the rehab unit, patients often stay for several weeks.
“Our kids miss field trips and science experiments, so I think using the curriculum the CAP has developed, that is at our fingertips, can create some of those more meaningful experiences while they’re at the hospital,” she said.
Griffith, with the Civil Air Patrol, has already dropped off several STEM kits that patients can try out, along with lesson plans for teachers to adapt for their students’ developmental age.
“We have ACE programs and cadet programs in a variety of schools,” Griffith said, “but partnering with Riley in an inpatient setting is unique. I don’t know of any other program like it in the entire country.”
HER RILEY CONNECTION
Bringing ACE to Riley is important to her because the hospital is near and dear to her heart. Two of her five children are Riley kids.
“Our 11-year-old is a patient of Dr. (Richard) Rink, and she is on this Earth still because of him and Riley oncology,” Griffith said.
“We’ve spent a lot of time at Riley, and we’ve been inpatient for long periods of time, so I know firsthand about the school program, and I know how valuable it is for families to have quality programming while they’re stuck in a hospital room,” she added.
“To be able to use the resources I have with the Civil Air Patrol and come alongside Riley, which I have such a huge heart for because of all they’ve done for us, has just been really fun.”
While Lynch can’t wait to take the lessons she’s learned back to her Riley kids, she could only marvel at what she’d just accomplished.
“Never did I imagine I would be teaching teens in a behavioral health setting or that I would be flying a plane. I’m looking forward to more teachers taking off with it.”
Note: The Civil Air Patrol, the official auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force, is a volunteer organization that supports American communities during times of emergency, while also promoting aviation and related fields through aerospace/STEM education and shaping future leaders through its cadet program.
Photos submitted and by Mike Dickbernd, IU Health visual journalist, email@example.com