Is it a waste of time to visit a preschool to expose students to flying model airplanes?
Helping out a Neighbor
Last year my club was approached by the librarian from a preschool located at a nearby town. They were wondering if we were interested in exposing their students to radio-controlled model airplanes and helicopters. The club president at the time, Daniel Trujillo, is a real “can do” guy and immediately said yes.
He then turned to my fellow club members and asked in an email who else was interested in joining him in a trip out to the school. It sounded to me like it would be a lot of fun, and I emailed him back accepting the invitation. I learned later that out of approximately 75 club members, I was the only one that had accepted.
In defense of other club members, the event was scheduled during normal business hours and it was a bit of a drive to get to the school. I remember it taking me 45 minutes to drive there.
Since Dan is a heli guy and I’m an airplane guy, we figured we had our bases covered and did not worry about getting more help. I brought a couple of airplanes including my Parkzone Vapor. He brought a micro heli and a couple of his thousand dollar helis.
Shining Stars Preschool
As I drove up to the address I had written down, I saw a complex of buildings that looked like an elementary school. Oh. The preschool must be in one of the rooms. As I read the signs around the school, it slowly dawned on me that the entire school was the preschool. I learned later that all 500 kids were preschoolers. It turns out that this was the only public preschool in the entire town.
My point of contact was waiting for me out in the parking lot as I drove up. I took that as a good sign. I was right.
They set us up in a large room and Dan and I took turns flying our indoor stuff over a clear section of the room. There were as many parents as children present, which was a relief for me. Children their age, 3-4 year olds, are very tactile. I was expecting to have my hands full just keeping them in check. It was a non-issue. The parents all kept a very close watch over them and there was never any danger of a kid grabbing an airplane and breaking it.
Recruiting new Club Members
Dan and I fielded many questions about our aircraft. The most common question was how much did they cost. When we explained that the indoor heli and airplane could be purchased for about $100 each, we both got several inquiries about where the nearest hobby store was located. In the process, we also handed out many information sheets about our club.
We had a great time. Everybody was very polite and grateful that we were there. They did not let us leave without a promise to return the next year. We left looking forward to a return visit.
Back at the Club
At the next club meeting Dan proudly talked about our trip out to the preschool. We were both touched by the gratitude and genuine interest in our hobby that many parents had demonstrated.
At that point a senior club member spoke up and said that, in his many years of flying RC and doing community outreach activities, he did not recall even one new club member that had come out of it. That pretty much killed the discussion, and I chose not to speak up.
Long Term Impact
It has now been almost a year since our preschool visit, and we have not gained a single club member as a direct result. I have no way of gauging the impact on the local hobby stores, but it was probably minimal.
Was visiting the preschool a waste of our time and of limited club resources?
The right to fly our model airplanes wherever and whenever we want is not a right granted under the Constitution, at least it was not there the last time I checked. Clubs lose flying sites for any number of reasons. A city owned field could be voted out of existence to make room for a kid’s soccer field. A farmer may decide to kick you out of his sod farm simply because the pilots were rude to one of his employees once. Even private fields are vulnerable to complaints from neighbors and changing zoning laws.
All of these scenarios can be at least deferred and in many cases completely avoided if your club is well-liked and respected by others in your community. This includes site owners, neighbors of the flying field, county officials, the news media, local educators, and other local civic organizations.
Absolutely the worst time to be building your club’s community relations is when you are about to lose a flying site or when you are trying to gain a new one. At that point your feeble community outreach efforts will only be seen as completely self-serving.
AMA Education Committee
The Academy of Model Aeronautics, or AMA, realized a very long time ago that encouraging clubs to have good relationships with their neighbors was in the long term interest of the hobby. They also knew that education was one of the very best ways to do this. In fact, when it was founded in 1936 the word “academy” was chosen as part of the name to recognize the important role that education played in its mission.
Many of us modelers, myself included, first flew model airplanes as children. Then we dropped out as young adults only to return later in life. There would be far fewer adults returning to model aviation if the AMA did not work hard to foster positive learning experiences for children.
Take off And Grow (TAG) Grant Program
The AMA has many programs to help clubs and other organizations with model aviation outreach activities. A popular one is called the TAG grant program, which encourages clubs to host introduction to model aviation days for local kids. The TAG program is designed specifically to encourage clubs to become active participants in their communities. I am very proud to say that this year I will be the official AMA contest director at my club’s annual family day event.
The Smile of a Child
Kids love things that fly, and parents love to see their kids having fun. Often a parent or even a grandparent will become involved in model aviation because a child expressed an interest in it. The youngest member of my club, a girl in elementary school, is brought to our meetings by her grandfather. They are both active members and we are proud to have them.
It is a huge mistake to see outreach activities within your community as zero sum events. I had a great time at the preschool, and I was not even thinking about the greater good of model aviation.