October 29th, 2012
04:00 AM ET

California teacher holds secret class

By Sonya Hamasaki, CNN

Los Angeles (CNN) – On a brisk, spring-like day in March, Diana Rivera walked into a classroom at Centinela Valley Adult School, just like she’d done everyday for nearly the past two months. She was eager to hear a lecture in her “medical assistant” class, a course she believed would be key to successfully starting a career in the medical field. Getting there had been a struggle.

“I searched and searched for so long,” she said. “I tried to get in three years ago, but there was a waiting list.”

The medical assistant course was started 12 years ago, and over the years, it grew to become one of the most popular on campus. But on that day, just as Rivera was settling into her coursework, everything changed.

“They just came in, gave us notice that school was over, and took us out," she said.

And just like that, her dreams vanished. The class and its instructor were suddenly eliminated due to cuts in state funding.

“It was devastating,” Rivera said. “I was let down.”

But as she was escorted off campus that morning, what she didn’t know was that her teacher was also about to become her champion.

Educator Cristina Chiappe, who created the course and has taught it since its inception, suddenly found herself unemployed. And while she no longer had a physical location to teach, she never once thought to stop the class.

“I didn’t want to leave my students with nothing. They cut the money back. This is not all about money, it’s about education,” she said.

So Chiappe came up with an idea – one that her students and onlookers have described as “brave”, “risky” and “heroic.”

She decided to continue teaching her group of displaced students, and open her own school.
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May 1st, 2012
06:22 AM ET

Compton kids learn to fly after school

Compton kids learn to fly after school

By Sonya Hamasaki, CNN

Compton, California (CNN) – On a sunny afternoon at Compton Airport, 9-year-old Jose Pineda runs across the tarmac and makes a beeline for a single-engine Cessna.

He's completely at ease –- clearly in his element –- laughing and joking about a special celebration coming up. A birthday. He runs his hand along the side of the plane and walks underneath the wing, clearing it with a foot of headroom to spare. He swings open the door and climbs into his seat on the left side of the plane - the pilot’s seat.

Pineda carefully checks the instruments on the console. He picks up a two-way radio to talk to some "grown-ups" who run air traffic control. His seatbelt clicks and he's ready for takeoff. That's right, Pineda is a pilot; a "veteran," he tells us. He’s been studying aviation since he was 6.

Inside the hangar, Pineda's friend, Tasneem Khatib, is also preparing to take to the skies. At 11, she off to a bit of a late start.

And then there’s 16-year-old Keilyn Hubbard, dressed to the nines in a navy blue pilot's suit. Sure, he’s at least old enough to drive, but he's also training for his first solo flight.

Just who are these kids?

They're not child actors filming a movie about kids who fly. Nor are they privileged child prodigies who set aviation records.

Jose, Tasneem and Keilyn are part of a unique afterschool program for inner city youth offered by Tomorrow's Aeronautical Museum in Compton, California.
Here, hundreds of children – as young as 5 – are learning how to fly. They learn about aerodynamics, math and science. They’re coaxed to sit in helicopters and play with the gears, and they practice flying on flight simulators until they're ready for the real thing.
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