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TigerFlight Youth Challenge to expand with grant

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David Wright wants Rome and Floyd County students to have a flight plan for life and with the help of a $10,000 grant TigerFlight Foundation just received, he’s ready to help them create one.

Wright is president and CEO of TigerFlight, a nonprofit educational foundation based at Richard B. Russell Regional Airport. He has been piloting a program that helped the foundation get the grant from Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.

Wright said he uses the term “flight plan” to not only tie in the aviation theme that is so central to TigerFlight, but also because making a flight plan relates to life.

“When you plan your flight, you may encounter turbulence or no-fly zones,” he said. “That is just like life. You have to get from point A to point B. The character traits support that plan.”

For a year now, Wright has been using flight plans as a way to teach Armuchee Middle School seventh-graders about important character traits. The grant now makes it possible to spread the program to all of the county and city middle schools.

“I really have to thank the Rome-Floyd County Commission on Children and Youth for helping us get the pilot program started,” Wright said. “They funded the pilot at Armuchee and it was really the seed that allowed us to get the grant.”

The program’s success and the way it meshed with TigerFlight’s overall mission was encouraging to Wright, he said.

“Our mission is to inspire students to become pilots in command of their own lives and instill the seven character traits,” said Wright. “The traits — moral, faithful, responsible, honorable, honest, respectful and courageous — are all driving forces in their lives. Students have really responded to the program.”

Those character traits have now become the basis for what Wright has named the Youth Challenge Coin Project. The project is a key component of the grant proposal and a portion of the $10,000 will go to fund the coins, he said.

“Each student who participates will receive a paper and a coin with a character trait, such as ‘courageous,’” Wright explained. “They and their family will work together to find someone who represents that trait. The student is asked to carry that coin around in their pocket for that month while they search for a person who has that trait.”

When a person is found, the student writes a brief summary about that person and why they embody that trait. The student then mails the paper back to Wright. Once Wright approves it, he sends another coin and paper with the next character trait for the student to find an example of.

“The AOPA really liked this concept,” said Wright. “It is nice because it asks the students to work with their parents to find these people. It also gives the student something tangible to collect and keep.”

The coins arrive set in small holders that can be fitted into a binder Wright issues each student at the beginning of the project.

“It is really like distance mentoring,” he said. “It is also teaching them responsibility because it is up to them to do the project. I hand them the first one and set them to it, but they have to give back and follow through.”

The program will expand into other schools in 2015, he said.

“I just spoke with representatives from the Rome and Floyd County school systems,” Wright said. “Fifteen students from each seventh grade will be nominated by the school to participate. I think it will be great to see so much synergy. We’ll have these students each walking around with a positive character trait in their pocket, looking for people they think have that trait. Then we’ll have teachers talking and parents talking, too.”

Other parts of the proposal include airport field trips for students, orientation flights and motivational presentations that use analogies to flying.

“We really want to motivate kids to be the pilot of their lives,” he said. “We also want to inspire interest in aviation, however, that is not all that it is about. When we talk about aviation, we talk about all kinds of things such as the electricity used and the navigation used. These skills translate to subjects they learn in school such as math or science.”

Students don’t have to plan to be pilots to participate, he added.

“We want you to be whatever you want, just be in control,” he said.