‘Scuse me while I kiss the sky
Tamara Gano is afraid of heights – that’s why Tuesday was a day she’ll never forget.
The 12-year-old South Tahoe Middle School student found herself thousands of feet above Lake Tahoe for the first time ever – and not in a 747, but a small, four-seater airplane.
“I challenged my fears,” she said as she climbed out across the wing with shaky legs. “I’ve never been in a plane before.”
Gano is part of South Tahoe Outreach Education, a program designed for at-risk students as an alternative to traditional summer school.
“S.T.O.R.E. provides a curriculum that builds self-esteem, success and cooperation,” said Barbara Cloutier, who is one of four program teachers. “Along with structure and strong discipline, we try to teach them to believe in themselves.”
The four-week class takes students through a variety of areas including a ropes course that encourages trust, teamwork and goal-setting, rock-climbing near Eagle Lake, a lesson in tolerance and prejudice and an environmental study of the Tahoe Basin.
“It’s teaching them to make choices and take responsibility,” Cloutier said.
During the fourth and final week, students learn the principles of flight and are given a ground school exam. If, like Gano, they pass, they are treated to a 45-minute flight over the lake – courtesy of volunteering pilots with the Civil Air Patrol. During the flight, students get a chance to pilot the plane themselves.
“The cars and boats looked like toys,” said 15-year-old Bernardo Kurt. “Everything looked so small.”
Pilots like Bill Kirschner said they love introducing young people to flying and encourage many to join the Civil Air Patrol’s cadet program. “Last year I got a thank-you letter from a student,” said Kirschner with a chuckle. “It said, ‘Dear Captain, Thanks for taking us flying. Sorry I threw up in your plane.”
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