This woman is lit! She’s electric. Lori Bradner, selected late last year — in lieu of a new Florida Air Museum director — is now SUN ’n FUN’s executive director of education.
That’s right: SUN ’n FUN now highlights youth education and year-round engagement, not just an annual celebration of aviation’s glory. The entire team is involved, but Bradner is the focal point for educational programs making SUN ’n FUN relevant — everyday — to aviation’s future.
A focal point of that emphasis on education is the Central Florida Aerospace Academy (CFAA), a Polk County public school right on the SUN ’n FUN grounds, housed in a new building built with a $7.5 million grant to SUN ’n FUN by major benefactor James C. Ray.
The three-story, 58,000-square-foot facility, which opened in 2011, boasts 235 students, with room for 500. It is one of only five high schools in the U.S. with A&P courses. In fact, students can graduate with their A&P practical work done, plus a private pilot license and college credits for a Polk State College associate’s degree. This public-private partnership offers employment and internship opportunities with both SUN ’n FUN and on-airport businesses.
Proceeds from the Polk County lease support SUN ’n FUN scholarships for deserving youth. These “Bright Future” scholarships cover 75% of the cost of obtaining a pilot license for deserving youth with a desire to fly and a 2.75 grade point average. The remaining 25% can be “worked off” with volunteer work on the SUN ’n FUN grounds, according to officials.
There’s also a Future Eagles Aviation Club and Aircraft Restoration Club, plus opportunities with Lakeland flight schools, including a student-run flying club.
Bradner, previously a teacher at CFAA, was tapped to fill the new SUN ’n FUN education job, which combines museum oversight with an educational focus on the Science Technology Engineering Math (STEM) core curriculum through its “STEMtastic” programs.
“You’ve got to speak the STEM language,” notes Bradner. “And aviation fits the bill!”
Just running a museum is not the plan. “I will expand the walls of my classroom,” Bradner says.
The Florida Air Museum will become “a huge classroom” and a “living, breathing learning center” with engaging, hands-on experiences that reach today’s youth, she promises.
Bradner’s guide is education’s Five E’s: Engage, explore, explain, elaborate, and then evaluate.
“Our museum had no interactive exhibits,” observed Bradner. “It’s been ‘low and slow.’ I like big and fast.”
“For instance, many people don’t know we have the Howard Hughes collection — maps, records, pictures, correspondence, even a letter from (once-girlfriend) Katharine Hepburn,” she says.
She imagines a “Howard Hughes Walk of Fame” where visitors stroll through the aviator’s life in film clips using “green screen” video technology. Her collaborator on design ideas: Tim Lawn, a creative local artist, active Army Reservist, and designer of area World War II memorials.
Another new opportunity is a just-donated FedEx 727, now on the SUN ’n FUN ramp and soon to be displayed in the area between the CFAA and the museum. It will house two classrooms, a 30-seat conference room, and more. The cockpit stays as is for educational uses. The landing gear will hang down for hands-on work by CFAA A&P students. “The A&P program needs a jet to work on,” Bradner notes.
Another novel innovation: En educational musical, “Every Kid Flies,” staged in collaboration with the nearby Harrison School for the Arts. Written by SUN ’n FUN Education Director John Iskra, a nationally published musician, it debuted on opening day of this year’s SUN ’n FUN, and now is being performed in local elementary and middle schools.
“You can talk all day about Lift over Drag, but we’ll get kids singing about flying and activate talented teachers throughout our county,” says Bradner. “Involving one teacher in av-ed subjects leverages our outreach 30-to-1. There’s so much here that’s untapped.”
Adults, especially parents, are seriously concerned about today’s younger generation. From the top down, SUN ’n FUN is taking up the challenge. There’s a partnership program with a nearby middle school and even a program with a school in Norway.
“If you wait until high school, it’s too late,” says Bradner. “Kids are our future. We have to make them believe in themselves. This keeps me going. I always ask myself, ‘Did we inspire today?’”
On the job just since Dec. 1, Bradner is a whirlwind of enthusiasm and drive. A colleague called her “an F2 tornado as a CFAA science teacher, but she’s an F4 to F5 now!” She’s a well-prepared tornado, too. The Flint, Michigan, native is a graduate of Michigan State with a Master’s in Education Administration from Purdue. She received her National STEM certification at Columbia University in New York as a NASA Endeavor Fellow. Her numerous awards include the Air Force Association’s 2012 National Teacher of the Year and 2011 Florida Teacher of the Year. And she’s learning to fly.
She doesn’t take those achievements too seriously, noting that she also has a Clown College “Batchelor of Fun Arts” as a former Ringling Brothers clown in her early 20s. In fact, this unique educator was once profiled by the media as “Science and Laughter Merge.” She’s radiant, exuberant and an inspiration to students or her “cherubs,” as she calls them.
As we talked on the SUN ’n FUN campus a few weeks before the fly-in, the bubbly Bradner said she is thankful she’s “surrounded by people who keep me grounded” and firmly focused on fiscal realities. She has her head in the clouds, she says, but enjoys “a great tether in The Team. I’ve found a home!”
For more information: Sun-n-Fun.org