By Jodi Prill
Sharing Passion for Flight
Wisconsin non-profit organization offers young aviators a chance to soar — for free
Janesville , WI — Tom Morgan is bringing kids into aviation at Rock County Airport here. He has employed his love of aviation, experience as an educator, and even his financial resources, to establish a non-profit organization. Wisconsin Aviation Academy offers students, grades eight and higher, the opportunity to learn to fly for free. After three years of flight training, WAA is also tackling the responsibility of fixed base operator, running the Janesville Jet Center to ensure the future of the youth aviation program.
Morgan, WAA founder and executive director, began flying in the late ’80s, and quickly earned his commercial license and certified flight instructor rating. He began flight instructing in 1992 and soon after took a position with an aerial survey company in Chicago .
He explains, "I realized that I really like flying and teaching, but it was really the teaching that I liked as much — probably more — than the flying. Watching that student develop from nothing, where they couldn't even fly straight and level to where they had their first solo — that was pretty exciting. I knew I couldn't make any money flight instructing, or at least it's hard. So I went and got a masters in teaching thinking I could teach at a public school or private school and be a part-time instructor somewhere. I worked in high school and 8th grade programs and I worked with a lot of at-risk students. I ran a program for expelled kids for a year and I always tried to integrate aviation as a motivator with my curriculum or as a bonus. One semester when I worked with the expelled kids, when I started seeing their attendance dropping toward the summer, I set a goal for them; if they met that goal, I'd take them for an airplane ride, and they all met their goals."
For Morgan's students, aviation continued to be the "carrot on the stick." And after working with a career-building program for low-income kids, he developed the idea for an aviation program that would start with 8th grade students and carry them through high school.
In December 2000, Morgan formed Wisconsin Aviation Academy , which is overseen by a board of eleven. By March 2001, it had a hangar and its first airplane. Today WAA has three aircraft, a Cessna 150, Piper Archer, and a Cessna 172, which is a leaseback with a local pilot.
CLASS IS IN SESSION
The first ground school for Wisconsin Aviation Academy started May 12, 2001 . Morgan says there were about ten students in the group, and of the six that stuck with the program, three now have their private pilot's license, and one is even in a college commercial aviation program. Many of the students in the first group were seniors in high school, so they were finished after one year. Since then, students join in the fall of each year, most as young as 8th grade, but Morgan says they still accept high schoolers.
Interested children must fill out an application and meet the 2.5 minimum grade point average requirement. Morgan says WAA will accept students with a GPA as low as 2.0 on a probationary basis, as long as improvement is shown. Also, within the group, WAA strives to draw 50 percent of the kids from low-income families and 75 percent from "underrepresented groups" (minority, women, and low-income). "Ideally it would be wonderful to have 50 percent girls," Morgan says, "because that's what they are in the school district."
This fall, Morgan says WAA is trying something different. It is holding a mini-ground school for the first few weeks to attract as many kids as possible. From that group, they will determine who has the necessary drive and aptitude for following through with the program.
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