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To Celebrate STEM Day, Leander Students Learn To Fly

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon
Kailey Looney, a fifth-grader at Camacho Elementary School,"flies" with the help of instructor Greg Levin at iFly Austin, an indoor skydiving facility, on Wednesday.

Twenty-five fifth-graders from Camacho Elementary School in Leander went to an indoor skydiving facility Wednesday to get a lesson in flying. Before students got to fly, though, they had to sit through a lesson on physics. 

iFly Austin offered the free class on National STEM Day to try to get the kids interested in science, technology, engineering and math. iFly chose Camacho because it has a lot of low-income students, who might not otherwise be able to come to the facility.

"The goal of the presentation is we talk about how the wind tunnel works, but we also talk about other science concepts that they've learned in school or maybe read in a textbook," said Nikki Prather, a STEM instructor for iFly. "We talk about all of those science concepts that are happening in the wind tunnel, just so they can have a real-life experience of those physics concepts that seems far-reached or unrelatable."

Some of the concepts Prather teaches are about force, velocity and speed; the lesson changes depending on the age of the students. She says this lesson is important because it helps kids connect the dots between something cool like flying and science.

That context is helping them understand. Student Marcela Varela explains how the air will keep them afloat: "There [are] four fans … all on the top, and the air flows through vents and then it comes up [through] the bottom and that’s how you hover or float."

Isabel Mondragon says it’s easier to learn here than in a classroom.

"If it was in science it would be kind of confusing, but here it shows you everything that’s happening and what is gonna happen," she said. 

Once the kids have all the learning done, it’s time to get ready to fly. 

Credit Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT
Camacho fifth-grader Trenton Niece puts on a jumpsuit in preparation for indoor skydiving.

Looking at how much space they'll be floating in, some students are nervous.

"I'm kind of scared," said Makel Stephens. "I'm nervous and scared at the same time."

Credit Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT
Levin coaxes student Makel Stephens into the wind tunnel.

Instructor Greg Levin tries to calm some of the fears by reminding the kids how fun it will be.

"When we get in there, it’s going to seem crazy," he said. "It’s going to seem chaotic. It might seem a tiny bit scary. That is normal! This is a new environment for you guys."

Credit Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT
Aidynn Jones gets fitted for a helmet.

"It was fun. It was scary though," said Aidynn Jones. "Just looking down, and the wind was blowing. It was crazy."

Credit Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT
Ezequiel Gonzales (center) and his classmates, including Tranell Tate (to his left) and Marcella Varela (at right), listen to the instructor before skydiving.

"It’s terrifying!" said Zeke Gonzalez. "It’s like I'm going to fall in there, but I know it’s going to hold us, but I'm still scared because of [going] down."

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