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Mon, Jun 05, 2006

MN School Turns To Aviation To Inspire Students

We Wish OUR Teachers Would Have Done This...

A school in St. Paul, MN has found a way to inspire its students -- most of whom come from low-income families -- to reach for the stars... or, more accurately, the skies.

Troy Vincent, principal of the Farnsworth Magnet School on the city's East Side, says allowing students to experience a variety of tasks associated with something most kids are naturally drawn to -- aerospace -- is a great way to encourage those kids to work harder than they might have otherwise.

"This is like college," he told the Twin Cities Pioneer Press recently. He had to whisper, so as not to disturb two teams of sixth graders who were planning and executing flight plans in a pair of aircraft sims at the school.

Once the kids realize they have a unique opportunity at his school -- but have to work hard to earn it -- the kids "start to behave it," Vincent added.

The approach seems to be working, too -- as Farnsworth students consistently score higher on state tests than their peers at three other area schools with predominantly lower-income student populations. And the secret seems to be the aerospace tie-ins, which start early at the school.

After all... how many pre-kindergarten-through-sixth-grade schools do you know of that have an aerospace coordinator on staff?

"It's motivating for students," said Jill Gugisberg Wall, who handles that task at Farnsworth.

Farnsworth second-graders learn computer graphics by "assembling" a space shuttle, for example; students in fifth grade learn of the connection between catapults and rockets, and also begin ground school and 'flight training' under the supervision of a professional pilot... before being allowed to use the flight simulators.

And while Vincent (below) says it IS possible for a day to pass for a Farnsworth student without hearing anything about planes or rockets, he adds that "at some point in that unit, it will come up."

Vincent emphasizes that Farnsworth's goal is not to train pilots -- but to instead inspire kids with options not available to them at other schools, regardless of where their students come from.

"Intelligence is not determined by ZIP code," he said. "We're a poor school. We just don't act like it."

FMI: http://farnsworth.spps.org/

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