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Flights for Excellence

Out of the many awards she's already earned, this is the one Jayia will remember best. (FOX 8 photos) Out of the many awards she's already earned, this is the one Jayia will remember best. (FOX 8 photos)
NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) -

Jayia Baham has already built a long list of accomplishments in her short school career.

“I've been on the honor roll a lot, and I have a lot of awards at home and my mother likes to put them in frames and things, Jayia said.

But no reward compares to this day for the fifth-grader at Fannie C. Williams.

Jayia and 20 of her classmates are about do something they've never done.

“How many of you have ever been on an airplane before?” asked pilot Al Edwards. “Ok, so how many of you have never flown before? Hands way up. Have never flown before?”

Edwards earned his pilot's license 10 years ago. His company, Ely Edwards Enterprises, came up with the Flights for Excellence program as a way to reward local students.

“I think it does some good for some of the young students here to see someone just like them, with the same largely public education that they're earning, achieve some of the things that they may aspire to and to see some more things possible,” Edwards said.

Each spring, one school selects a group of kids who worked hard throughout the year.

“They may not be kids who are on the honor roll, while some of them are, it's kids who work hard every day despite some of the hardships that they may experience,” said Williams Principal Kelly Batiste.

The kids divide into groups of four. Jayia is on the first flight.

“I've never been on a plane before and I'm so excited to like see the land and the landscapes, and he said we're going to see the Superdome and I'm going to see it from a side I've never seen it before, so it's pretty exciting to me,” Jayia said.

The students fasten their seatbelts, and after a pre-flight check, the plane taxis to the runway.

“Alright guys, let's go see something,” Edwards said.

And then, takeoff.

“My ears were popping,” Jayia said. “My stomach, it felt a little like I was going to puke, but not really.”

The sick feeling quickly vanishes as the plane lifts up over Lake Pontchartrain. Through a cloudless sky we glide, and the city comes into view.

“I see a big football stadium, but it looks so small from up here,” said Darvell Hall.

Neighborhoods race below; downtown buildings gleam in the sun.

“He told us to look to our right for the Superdome and the Crescent City Connection, and the Mississippi River was on our left and the Superdome was on our right,” Jayia said.

The plane makes a graceful circle around the city, passing over the west bank and a place Jayia recognizes.

“I actually seen the dealership on the west bank side where my mom got her car from,” Jayia said.

As we pass by downtown again, the airport comes back into view. The short ride is almost over.

“It's so wonderful,” Jayia said.

And soon we're back on the runway.

Edwards: “How was that guys?”

Kids: “Amazing! That was so awesome! It had the greatest views.”

Fifth-grader Darvell Hall spotted his grandmother's house from the air.

“It was a yellowish color and this small,” he said.

Reporter: “And how big is it when you normally go visit?”

“It's this wide and this big!” Hall said.

Principal Batiste watches her students' eyes light up, any fears gone as they come back down to earth.

“To see the smiles on their faces and the expression of, ‘wow, I'm really in an airplane, I'm flying over things, I've seen in the city all my life,'” she said. It's just really rewarding to share that first experience with them and I hope not to be their last.”

Edwards hopes the experience shows these kids that hard work in school can help them do almost anything – even become a pilot if they want to.

“While that may not end up being their choice, what they learn that day is there are things they've not seen before and their education is the bridge to it,” he said.

Out of the many awards she's already earned, this is the one Jayia will remember best.

“I don't think I'm ever going to forget this,” she said. “My first time in a plane.”

And now she knows it's possible to soar.

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