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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – You could call it flying but these 7th graders in the Adrienne Arsht Center’s Kittyhawk program spend much of their time crashing.

The kids spend their time after school flying drones of all sizes.

CBS4’s David Sutta caught up with them on their obstacle course day. They must fly through rings of varying sizes and land on a pad. It’s as much fun as it is challenging. James Salby, a 7th grader, admits he’s still getting the hang of it.

“I have a little bit control of it. But it’s fun.” Salby said.

Salby is one of the hundreds of kids this year participating in the Adrienne Arsht Center’s Kittyhawk program. It starts with a performance put on with the help of sponsors for some 25,000 7th graders in Miami-Dade County.

The Kittyhawk program inspires students with the tale of how the Wright Brothers went bicycle innovators to international celebrities. Jairo Ontiveros, the Arsht Center’s Assistant VP for Education and Community Engagement, explained the performance is just the start.

“Our Kittyhawk program is all about deepening the impact. So our Kittyhawk STEM workshops take place at three locations throughout the county, with about 100 students in middle school, targeting Latino female and black students in our community that traditionally under-served,” he said.

The Center is trying to bridge the gap in the science, technology, engineering and math fields – careers where Latinos and African-Americans are not as represented well.

“We call it here at the Arsht Center the ‘ah-ha moment’. So when a child sits in the theater here at the Knight Concert Hall, it’s not only about seeing themselves on that stage but it’s about taking shape in their community and how they can carry that forward her in Miami-Dade County.” Ontiveros said.

Arsht has teamed up with Florida International University where young STEM students share their passions with students who often have never even touched a drone. Oward Cadenas is an FIU student who spends his afternoons teaching the kids about drones and flight.

“They choose to come. What surprised me the most is that they are eager to learn. And when I walked in the library they were happy I’m there,” he said.

The 13-week program exposes them to simulators, building their own model planes, and getting hands-on with drones.

“My goal is to hopefully inspire them to learn more about stem education and to get involved more, science, mathematics, engineering. And to show them that there is more to it then just math,” Cardenas said.

For Salby, it’s been a life-changing experience.

“James at first was kind of like the class clown, always trying to make the kids laugh. As the program went on he started being more serious and more focused. He never missed a class,” said Cardenas.

Salby agreed he’s hooked.

“I enjoy it and I think more middle school kids should join. It’s a lot of fun,” he said.

In its eighth year, Kittyhawk was just recognized by the Miami-Dade Beacon Council for its work and given a Beacon Award. They hope to continue it next year with the help of sponsors.

“At the end of the day, our Kittyhawk program at the Arsht Center is about making sure that we have equity and accessibility to our 7th graders. And through the arts we want to make sure they have access to the resources, the partners, like Boeing and Airbus, that they can make a career,” Ontiveros said.

The Arsht Center hopes to expand their learning through the arts program. They have plans to reach all 5th, 7th and 9th graders in Miami-Dade County. Right now they are searching for sponsors to fund the program.


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