Yosi Esquivel, a high school junior, wants to be an aerospace engineer. After reading about the exploits of Orville and Wilbur Wright, fourth graders Jose Cornejo and Natalie Stroud wanted their model Wright glider to fly as far and as straight as possible. On Thursday, their interests converged.

Yosi and seven other students from the Project Lead The Way pre-engineering program at South Lenoir High School brought their experience with hands-on projects to Pink Hill Elementary School, leading small teams of students from the fourth-grade classes of Jami Finch and Brenda Griffin as they put together the plastic model planes.

One one level, the activity was straightforward STEM, using science, technology, engineering and math to build, test and fly the planes – a follow-up to the elementary students’ having read a story about the Wright brothers and a prelude to their further reading about Amelia Earhart and her flights.

“What we want to do is introduce our students to the STEM experience building the Wright flyer and testing it like the Wright brothers did, while using the role models of the pre-engineering students at South Lenoir,” said Jami Finch, the teacher who won the Lenoir County Education Foundation grant that funded the project.

On another level, the performance of the model planes mattered less than the presence of the role models.

“The title of the grant was ‘Take Aim and Fly Straight,’ Finch said. “ We have partnered with our high school, and these pre-engineering students are introducing our younger students to the programs that South Lenoir offers. More importantly, they are role models for our youth. What we want to do is turn (the fourth graders) on to education so they’ll stay on the right path and continue through school. We’re hoping to light that fire in them.”

The students assembled the planes and recorded the test flights with their iPads to help identify any design flaws. The teams huddled, made adjustments and went outside for final flights, sometimes adjusting their adjustments.

“We put three weights on each side and two in the middle,” Jose Cornejo said. “It didn’t work so we put them on the back.”

Yosi, the team leader for Jose and Natalie Stroud, concurred with the change. “The second time they realized their plane was heavier in the front than in the back so they added weight to the back,” she said as the trio made multiple test flights in front of the school. “It’s flying much more evenly now.”

The lessons gained from failure weren’t lost on the high school students or their Project Lead The Way teacher, Gwen McKinney. “This reinforces what I’ve taught my students in the classroom – making modifications, researching and brain-storming to make sure the end product is effective and works properly – and allows them to express their skills through assisting these students,” McKinney said.

“I’m really into this,” Yosi said. “I enjoyed helping when they started building the plane and seeing them get excited about having an opportunity to fly it. They’re having a great time.”

Brenda Griffin, the teacher who partnered with Finch in this project and who won a separate grant that feeds into the fourth grade’s study of Amelia Earhart, gave the teams’ work a thumbs up.

“It was a fantastic experience for the students, for our students as well as the Project Lead the Way students,” she said. “They’ve interacted and have done such a wonderful job together. It’s just been great. Everybody had fun.”