Sarasota Int’l Gets Creative Introducing Local Students to Aviation

Sarasota Int’l Gets Creative Introducing Local Students to Aviation
Paul Nolan
Published in: 

Given the daily hustle and demands of operating an international airport, it can be tough finding time to build relationships with the greater community. However, leaders at Sarasota Bradenton International Airport (SRQ) on Florida’s Gulf Coast know that such efforts are not just vital to developing a positive service-oriented identity; they can also be effective early recruitment tools to support the long-term success of the airport.

The forward-thinking team at SRQ is grooming future members of its workforce decades in advance with two community outreach programs: an enhanced annual Take Your Child to Work Day and a unique partnership with a secondary school.

Team Success, a Sarasota charter school for underserved students, is opening a new campus this fall for students in grades six through 12 on property adjacent to SRQ that is owned by the Sarasota Manatee Airport Authority. As a nod to its airport neighbor and landlord, Team Success will offer an after-school program that highlights aviation careers and aeronautical subjects like the mechanics of flight and aviation history. According to the program director, material from the after-school sessions may pave the way for future aviation classes.


Project: Take Your Child to Work Day

Location: Sarasota Bradenton Int’l Airport, in FL

Airport Owner: Sarasota Manatee Airport Authority

Cost: Minimal—T-shirts, badges, meals & snacks

Key Objective: Engage & educate children of airport employees & airport business partners

Participation: 28 children (up from 17 in 2018)

Age Range: Kindergartners-high school students


Project: After-School Aviation Program

Location: Team Success Charter School, adjacent to Sarasota Bradenton Int’l Airport

School Enrollment: About 600 students, grades 6-12

Program Enrollment: To be determined this fall

Key Objective: Teach students about aeronautics; highlight aviation career opportunities

Tomorrow’s Workforce

As leaders at SRQ explain, a key step to engaging their future workforce is introducing students to a wide range of aviation career opportunities while they are still young. That’s one reason Marketing and Community Relations Administrator Susan Reimann promptly organized activities for Take Your Child to Work Day when she joined the Marketing and Community Relations Department in 2018. Previously, the airport did not participate in the national event observed each April. Since Reimann started working there, SRQ has sponsored a new slate of activities every year.

Reimann recalls bringing her daughters to work with her in the 1990s, when she was at Dulles International Airport. “It was huge deal for them. They loved the experience,” she recalls. “When I got this position, I thought it was important we do that here.”

The first such event at SRQ drew 17 children of Airport Authority workers, ages 6 to 18. This past April, 28 children, ages 5 to 19, came to work at the airport with parents. Many airport departments got involved to make the day a success; aircraft rescue and firefighting (ARFF), Airport Police Department, Human Resources, Facilities, Engineering, Purchasing and Properties all played
a part.

Always working to enhance the lineup, SRQ Properties enlisted the participation of two airport tenants for this year’s event: Unipak Aviation, a privately owned repair station specializing in maintenance, repair and overhaul services, manufacturing and aircraft on ground services; and Boca Aircraft Maintenance, which provides maintenance and general services for FAR 135 air carriers, corporate and personal aircraft.

Donuts, Pizza and Hands-On Activities

The 2024 event started with breakfast provided by HMSHost and welcome remarks from SRQ President and Chief Executive Officer Fredrick J. Piccolo. Each child also received a T-shirt and an official-looking airport access badge. After breakfast, they headed to the Airport Police Station and Airport Operations for a tour.

The children were then shuttled to Unipak Aviation for a tour and to Boca Aircraft Maintenance, where they ate again—this time, donuts, water and soda. (In retrospect, event organizers realize they need to coordinate food plans better next year, but the children certainly enjoyed the extra treats.)

At the Boca Aircraft Maintenance hangar, participants got to board a Learjet. They also got to check out its engines, which they had seen components of earlier at Unipak Aviation. While some of the kids had been on commercial airplanes before, seeing a corporate jet up close was a highlight of the day, says Diane M. Drakulich, property leasing manager for Sarasota Manatee Airport Authority.

Other activities included a tour of the ARFF facility, where participants boarded a fire truck and had the chance to test their aim with a fire hose. A visit to the ARFF maintenance facility provided an opportunity to climb aboard more heavy machinery—always a popular part of the day.

Broadening Horizons

The annual event gives young participants a better perspective of what really goes on at an airport, and introduces them to a wide range of careers they might not otherwise know about.

“Most people think when you come to an airport, you have pilots, flight attendants, ticket counter workers and people moving bags on a ramp. There is so much more than that,” Reimann emphasizes. “I don’t think people realize that we are like a small city. We have electricians and plumbers and our own fire and police departments. We have air traffic controllers in the tower and people working on communications. [Take Your Child to Work Day] opens young people’s eyes to all the things that happen at an airport and gives them a good idea about all the career opportunities associated with aviation.”

Airport workers who accompanied their children for part or all of program learned something as well. Drakulich notes that the day was a noticeable morale boost for employees because they gained an appreciation for how vital the airport tenants—and their role—is to the aviation community. “Susan [Reimann] and I received so many emails from the parents who were there with their children and the excitement they felt afterwards,” she remarks.

Year-Round Education Partnership

Airport officials hope the Team Success after-school aviation program will generate similar excitement. Jake Loomis, Social Studies Department chair and director of the after-school aviation program, explains that Team Success is a Title I school that is federally funded and focuses on raising the achievement level of children from low-income households.

It opened in 2010 exclusively for kindergarten through fifth-grade students but later expanded to include middle and high school as well. Enrollment has grown steadily to about 1,200.

When Team Success was looking for a site to build a new campus for grades six through 12, a vacant 15-acre parcel adjacent to the airport seemed like a good fit. The Airport Authority and Team Success at SRQ reached a lease agreement in 2020, and the school is scheduled to open this fall with about 600 students.

When the Airport Authority sent the lease agreement to FAA, the agency recommended that the school implement an aeronautical curriculum and aviation immersion program.

The Airport Authority also entered into an agreement with Manatee County School District in 2020, which will be the new home for Manatee Technical College.

Loomis has taken the lead in creating an outline for the after-school aviation immersion program curriculum. Students will learn about aviation history as well as many aspects of operating an airport, from security, air traffic control and working with the airlines, to the importance of monitoring weather and wildlife containment.

In addition to its support role for the after-school program, the Airport Authority will work with tenants to create internship opportunities for older students. Drakulich says the ultimate vision is to create an aviation community that serves as a direct pipeline for students at Team Success and Manatee Technical College, and ultimately into aviation careers. 

“We need to get these kids excited at an early age so they don’t miss opportunities. There are things they can be involved in now to help shape their future,” she remarks. “We’re running out of mechanics and other important workers in aviation. Kids may think about becoming a pilot or flight attendant, but they don’t think about the people on the ground and in corporate positions. Through this partnership, they’ll see there is so much involved in running an airport or an airline.”

Loomis is optimistic about the positive impact the new campus will have for older students. “Team Success has become a niche for low-income, minority students, so we see the importance of exposure beyond traditional education,” he says. “Because of the population we serve, a lot of our kids see fewer options in terms of careers. This is another way for them to broaden their exposure to career opportunities.

“Exposure to aviation can also lead to travel, which broadens your horizons and world view,” he adds. “That’s important for our kids, many of whom have not left the county much less the country.”

Loomis notes that the aviation community as a whole has been extremely helpful and welcoming to the school and its administrators. In addition to receiving primary support from SRQ and other airport businesses, the school has received offers of help from the Young Eagles, a division of the Experimental Aircraft Association; the Civil Air Patrol; and the Florida Goldcoast Ninety-Nines, an organization that promotes the advancement of women in aviation.

“I didn’t realize the aviation community is such a vibrant one,” he exclaims.

Between Team Success at SRQ and the airport’s annual Take Your Child to Work Day, local students interested in aviation are bound to set sky-high goals.


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