Tossing paper airplanes is frowned upon in most schools, but some Sedgefield Middle School students earned cheers for doing so Monday at Boeing’s North Charleston assembly plant.

Teachers clapped for their “pilots” as students launched the planes they designed and built with a team of their peers. Their challenge was to see whose plane could fly the farthest while coming in under budget.

“I saw how it works in the real world,” said eighth-grader Fredarius Johnson.

That’s one of the goals of a new program, DreamLearners, that kicked off in August for middle school students statewide.

The program initially was intended for Tri-County students, but Boeing officials decided to open it up to students across the state because of the demand.

“We want as many schools as possible to come out,” said Frank Hatten, education relations specialist for Boeing.

Schools must cover their students’ transportation costs, but the program is free. More than 1,000 students from at least 50 schools have participated thus far, and Boeing hopes to expand it to high school students by next fall.

They chose middle school because that’s when students begin thinking more seriously about their career aspirations. Hatten said he’d like to encourage students to consider Boeing and to give them direction on the kinds of courses they need to take.

“There’s a place at Boeing for all kids ... even if they don’t go to college,” he said.

The two-hour program covers math and science standards students are required to learn, such as how simple machines reduce the force required to do work and how to organize information into tables.

The tour takes place in a long room overlooking the production floor of the 787 final assembly building. Officials gave students an overview of Boeing and explained different stages of production.

Johnson said he knew Boeing was a big company, but he had no idea they built airplanes in North Charleston. He said he was excited to learn that because it could be an option he considers later.

Pamela Rich, a resource teacher at Sedgefield Middle, said the school brought students who were interested in careers such as engineering and aeronautics.

“They need to know they have an opportunity to stay here and make a difference,” she said.

Ashley Barnes, another school resource teacher who organized the trip, said this program could give them a better idea of what their futures could be.

“We want to provide our kids with as much real-world experience as possible,” she said. “I want them to see they can do whatever they want. They just need to put their mind to it.”

Students seemed to most enjoy the tour’s culminating hands-on project that involved building paper airplanes on a budget. Every student was assigned a role, such as mechanic or engineer, and they received a budget dictating the cost of everything from paper to paperclips to paper airplane blueprints.

Sixth-grader Gemma Lugo said she wants to go into the Air Force, She said she knew what it was like to fly on a plane, and she liked learning Monday how they were built.

“I understand more about them,” she said.

Reach Diette Courrégé Casey at @Diette on Twitter.

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