Nearly 30 Pines Middle School students recently took a coveted ride in the Goodyear Blimp thanks to a pilot partnership with the company.
The partnership, formed this year, aims to increase awareness and interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subjects that parlay into higher-paying careers.
"In the new, modern age of education, we're always looking for something innovative to bring subjects to life," said Carlton Campbell, principal of the Pembroke Pines school. "It allows kids to understand how to take content and make it applicable to real life."
The school offered several ways for students to earn a ride, such as academic contests and being the top fundraisers in a Parent Teacher Student Association walkathon.
Seventh-grader Isaiah Vasquez earned a seat after winning a spelling bee with the word "Cerberus," a mythical three-headed dog.
"When we flew over the ocean, we were so high up, but we felt so close to the ground," Vasquez said. "I hate heights, but I wanted to face my fear. I was clutching my seat when we elevated."
Adrianna Anderson, a seventh-grader who was nominated for a seat by her guidance counselor, called the ride a "once-in-a-lifetime experience" during which she saw a whale and other marine life during the 60-minute ride from Pompano Beach to Boca Raton and back.
Earlier this year, the school hosted an assembly with Goodyear representatives and blimp pilots.
"What's neat about the pilots is they said to pursue what you're interested in," said Sheila Dietz, an eighth-grade science teacher. "All of the pilots wanted to talk (specifically) with middle schoolers. They had great stories for the kids on how they got (to be pilots)."
Reaching students in middle school is key to helping them realize their passions and career goals, said Kathy Keith, seventh-grade assistant principal.
"They don't know all the stuff that's available. They have to go out and see for themselves that the sky's the limit," she said, adding that the ride is the "experience that could be life-changing. Having those real-world moments opens them up a lot more."
Doug Grassian, senior manager of airship communication, said the partnership is part of the company's outreach efforts.
"Goodyear has a vested interested in STEM because that's what we do. The blimp lends itself naturally to that in the way it flies," he said.
Fallan Patterson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.