By Sean Bowes

When a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity presents itself, the wise thing to is take it. That is what Byron Capehart’s mother, Martha, told her son when he was offered the chance to attend the “Destination Aviation” flight school summer camp in Lakeland at the Sun n’ Fun airfield, which is home to the Florida Air Museum.

Byron, a 15-year-old sophomore at Wesley Chapel High, was chosen, along with four other high school students from Pasco County, to study subjects like math, science and technology to hone their skills for possible careers in the fields of aviation, aerospace or engineering.

Byron and the other Pasco County students chosen were awarded their scholarships by the Florida Air Museum, which annually presents the gift of flight school scholarships to local students who are participants in the Pasco Education Foundation’s “Take Stock in Children” program.

“Take Stock” is an award-winning program that provides mentors, educational scholarships and hope for Pasco County’s low-income and at-risk youth. The program uses volunteer-mentors to help its mission of breaking the cycle of poverty through education.

According to “Take Stock in Children” program manager Roseanne Heyser, the program has been working together with the Florida Air Museum for nearly five years.

“[The camp] gives the kids a sense of a responsibility,” Heyser says. “For one week, they cook their own meals, clean up after themselves and then learn to fly a plane, too.”

“Take Stock” chooses between 25 and 50 students from around the county who are considered to be at-risk or from low-income families, and stays with them throughout their academic careers until college. According to the program’s website, the students are awarded college scholarships if they stay in school, maintain good grades, exhibit good behavior, remain crime-and drug-free, as well as meet with their mentors once a week. The program typically chooses kids from middle school and stays with them until college, and sometimes even through their first few semesters of college.

Byron, a soft-spoken, well-mannered 15-year-old who continually makes the A/B honor roll at Wesley Chapel High, says he had no real interest in aviation before the he showed up at the camp on July 24. However, after learning the controls and ins-and-outs of small airplanes, like the four-passenger Piper Cadet, a single engine, Cessna-style propeller plane, he began to really appreciate being chosen for the scholarship.

“It was really cool flying,” said Byron. “Just being picked to go (to the Destination Aviation summer camp) was a once-in-a-lifetime chance. I’m very thankful.”

The Florida Air Museum sponsors the $675 per-camper cost for the “Take Stock” students to attend “Destination Aviation.” According to Florida Air Museum director Ernest Sanborn, the cost is well worth it.

“Every year, we have had a great group of kids come here to fly,” Sanborn says. “Teaching the kids how to fly matures them. It gives them a certain type of quiet self-confidence that they didn’t have before.”

At the airfield in Lakeland, students learn about all of the gauges and controls inside an aircraft during the flight school, so that when it comes time fly the plane, they are comfortable at the yoke. All of the students also had the unique experience of taking a night flight over Pasco County with a flight instructor, which aside from flying the Piper Cadet themselves, is one of the big highlights for the week-long camp.

Sanborn says the Destination Aviation program teaches the students to embrace the Aviators Creed: “I will treat this earth and sky as I would others: With respect and dignity.”

For more information on programs and flight schools at the Lakeland Sun n’ Fun Airfield, call the Florida Air Museum at (863) 644-2431 or visit the airfield located at 4175 Medulla Rd., Lakeland.

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