20 fifth-graders get rare look behind scenes at Boeing

EVERETT — Boeing Co. workers got a glimpse Thursday of a rare sight in the Everett factory: a group of fifth-graders.

The jet maker doesn’t allow school field trips in the factory where workers build 747, 767, 777 and 787 aircraft. In fact, most children aren’t allowed on the public tour, given a 4-foot height requirement.

On Thursday, though, the company rolled out the red carpet for 20 fifth-grade students from Discovery Elementary School in Everett. Call it early recruiting of a new generation of workers. That’s how Ross Wilson, who helped quarterback the effort for Boeing, looks at it.

“We’re really hoping to inspire them to think, ‘I want to work for Boeing someday,’” Wilson said.

The company already has outreach efforts in high schools and internships for college students. But Wilson hopes an earlier, positive encounter with Boeing will foster student interest down the line.

Wilson works as a manager in Boeing’s supply chain management department. Through an employee-involvement initiative, he and four others spent 11 months cutting through red tape at the company to get approval to bring in the fifth-graders.

On Thursday morning, the students lined the balcony overlooking 787 Dreamliner assembly. Their tour guide, Christopher Summitt, who regularly leads public tours, is a sight himself, with long, fiery-red mutton chops. Summitt was chosen for his story-telling ability, and he kept the fifth-graders’ attention. He pointed down to the far end of the 787 production line to the Mother of All Tools Tower, dubbed the MOATT.

“No, I haven’t lapsed into Klingon,” Summitt told the Discovery Elementary students.

The tool helps Boeing workers put together sections of the 787 “like a Lego set,” Summitt said.

Legos, and the theme of building airplanes, came up again when the students were ushered into a Boeing conference room for hands-on activity. At the Lego table, students examined aircraft blueprints, getting instruction on how to assemble a Boeing 787 Lego plane.

At the other end of the room, students learned about the four forces of flight: lift, weight, thrust and drag. They used the released air from a balloon to power a straw down a long line of string. Some balloons, though, had additional weight to slow the process.

Kaitlynn Baugh, 10, held one end of the string and cheered the balloon along, sure hers would be the fastest. The redheaded Baugh could be seen asking questions and volunteering answers all along the tour. She enjoyed seeing Boeing’s 747, 777 and 787 production lines, though the view from the balcony was a little trying. Baugh is afraid of heights.

If she were to work for Boeing, Baugh would like to “build or paint the airplanes.”

That’s music to the ears of Edmund Wong, the principal of Discovery Elementary School. Wong’s goal in sending the students on the field trip was to open their eyes to potential careers.

He and Katie Davis, the students’ teacher at Discovery Elementary, emphasize math and science and try to find ways to relate those subjects to the real world.

“It’s easier to get them to focus when you relate it to something like airplanes,” Davis said.

That’s Wilson’s goal.

Perhaps the next time one of the students faces a tough math assignment or a pesky science project, he or she will do it because of learning the importance of those subjects in working at Boeing, he said.

“If we get five or six, 10 or 12, two or three of these students who come to work at Boeing, that’s good,” Wilson said.

Davis and Principal Wong were grateful that Boeing offered to cover the costs for the field trip. It would have been difficult for the school to come up with the money. Many of the students at Discovery Elementary come from low-income homes, which would have meant some families wouldn’t have been able to pay to send the children on the field trip. Four more classes of students from Discovery Elementary will visit before the end of January.

“I want those kids talking about Boeing,” Wilson said. “I want their parents and friends to talk about Boeing.”

Wilson achieved that with Pete and Hayley Andersen, a father-daughter duo on the field trip. Eleven-year-old Hayley Andersen, however, doesn’t see herself working at Boeing. She loves math and liked the tour. But Hayley’s dream is to be a teacher.

Her father was a different story. Pete Andersen called the tour “amazing.” His father worked at Boeing, so Pete had gone on the public tour years ago. But he found Boeing’s new technology and Thursday’s tour exciting.

“I was thinking of finding a way to work here,” he said.

Michelle Dunlop: 425-339-3454; mdunlop@heraldnet.com.

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