JEFFERSON — A group of sixth-grade students was dropped off to school Thursday, and by midmorning they were cruising in an airplane at an altitude of 35,000 feet on their way to Australia.
After the captain greeted the passengers aboard the flight at Jefferson International Airport — located at Jefferson Middle School — classroom "flight attendants" gave the imaginary passengers further instructions.
"Please be sure that all carry-on luggage is secured under your seats and that your seat belts are fastened," science teacher Candace Simmons said.
"And remember that you will need your disembarkation form when we arrive in Australia to get through customs."
Although the middle school students weren’t really traveling, the activities were a part of the sixth-grade Airport Adventure.
"A lot of our students have never flown before, so this was a way to help them see what flying on an airplane is like," said Jennifer Bray, a sixth-grade advanced language arts teacher.
While the students were learning about flying, they also learned a few things about Australia prior to the flight.
"They had to successfully complete the Australia unit before they could fly — that was the flight requirement," Bray said.
Many of the students have never flown, and had nothing to compare to the classroom experience. But some, like Sophia Lockwood, had a little background knowledge.
"I’ve flown before and the (Airport Adventure) was pretty close to the real thing," the 12-year-old said.
The day started with the students checking their luggage. It ended with a final screening at the Australian customs office.
Just as in a real airport, students were required to take off their shoes at the security checkpoint, place their belongings in a clear container to be screened, and were checked for weapons by a security officer with a metal detector.
Along with teacher flight attendants, the airport staff consisted of parent volunteers.
"I had so much fun, I would definitely do it again," said Vanessa Martinez, who served as a security and customs official. "It was a good learning experience for the kids."
No airplane trip would be complete without an in-flight movie and snack, both included in the Jefferson International Airport experience.
"I didn’t take my first flight until after I had graduated from high school, so when I flew for the first time, I was clueless," said Sherri Butler, a sixth-grade social studies teacher.
"The same is true for many of our students. This experience helps to make the flying process less scary and mysterious. Although it’s not an exact model of a real flight, it helps the students understand how to navigate around an airport."