AMESBURY — Jenn Donais spent the day before Thanksgiving giving a math lesson from 1,150 feet.
Donais works as a math coach at Amesbury Middle School but is also a lifetime member of the Civil Air Patrol, which gives teachers aerospace resources, literature and STEM kits to use in their curriculum.
The Civil Air Patrol also gives teachers a chance to pilot a plane once a year, so Donais and her brother-in-law Nate Jenkins flew out of Lawrence Municipal Airport at 8:45 a.m. Wednesday
“You don’t get any flight lessons, you just go into the plane and the pilot teaches you the math and how to fly the plane,” Donais said. “We basically learned as we were doing it. I took the wheel and worked the pedals and everything.”
Pilot Tim Nelson flew the Cessna T182T over Tenney Grammar School in Methuen, where Jenkins teaches seventh-grade math, and then banked east for Amesbury Middle School.
Nelson turned the flight controls over to Jenkins while flying over Tenney, then did the same for Donais on the way home to Lawrence after a quick pit stop in Biddeford, Maine.
“I can’t even explain how awesome and amazing it was,” Donais said. “Before we were on the plane, I was fine. Once we were in it, I was terrified. This is a small, one-engine plane and I am thinking to myself, ‘How am I, with no experience, going to be able to fly this plane?’ But, the pilot was amazing and he was very calm, cool and collected. He does it with his cadets, who are 12-year-olds, so I guess it wasn’t that big of a deal.”
Donais and Jenkins made sure their flight Wednesday was as educational as possible for her students.
Students at Tenney and then the middle school came together to form 60-by-60 grids that could be seen from the air.
“They made their formations on grid paper and you had a 10-foot-by-10-foot square for about 20 to 25 kids,” Donais said. “Then, they had to go outside and recreate their drawings on the field.”
One group of middle school students formed the number 2 on the field while another formed 3 and the fifth grade formed the word “math.”
Donais said she intends to continue the flight-related math lessons after school reconvenes Monday.
“It’s a $35 lifetime membership and they have tons of stuff for classrooms,” Donais said.
“With these flights for teachers, the Civil Air Patrol is getting us to learn how pilots use math or science and then bring it back to the classroom. They obviously want us getting excited about planes and flight so that our students can, too.”
Donais was so thrilled with her first flight that she’s ready to do it all over again next year.
“Nate was very nervous before we went up but afterward he said, ‘I could do this all the time. It was awesome.’” Donais said.
“It really wasn’t that hard. They really make it something that is not out of your reach.”
Staff writer Jim Sullivan covers Amesbury and Salisbury for The Daily News. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 978-961-3145. Follow him on Twitter @ndnsully.