We all have teachers that have inspired us throughout our lives, and the most memorable ones were often those that weren’t afraid to step into new territory to make learning fun. Southside Elementary School P.E. Teacher Chris Meyer brought excitement to reading in an unforgettable skydiving jump promoting reading and literacy. After the three-week reading challenge at their school, Chris took to the skies and read a children’s book while falling from 15,000 feet with professional skydiver Luke Aikins at Skydive Kapowsin in Shelton. The experience is one that students are sure to remember for a lifetime and showed that learning can truly happen anywhere.
Inspiring Kids Through Skydiving
Chris is passionate about education and loves to create new ways for kids to engage in learning. One day, he heard a story about Rebecca Muir, a third-grade teacher from Chesapeake who did a skydive while reading to her class. Chris was so inspired by the story that he wanted to find a way to bring something similar to Southside Elementary. He knew one of the former school board members Gigi Olson had ties to Luke Aikins, a local professional skydiver and base jumper. “I approached her to see what she thought, and she liked the idea,” he shares. “She took it to Luke and connected the two of us.”
Together they collaborated and ended up launching a three-week reading challenge on Read Across America Day. The challenge was for students to read seven days a week for those three weeks. The student with the most words would have the special choice of book that Chris would read during his one-minute free fall during the tandem skydive.
Approximately 83 of 200 students participated in the challenge, with the most words being read by Jack Haag at 2,000 words total. His reward for reading so much was to have the choice of book during the fall, so he selected Dr. Suess’ “Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You?”The rest of the participants had the chance to earn a free copy of the book with Luke’s signature by making guesses about the fall, such as how many words he would be able to read and how many mistakes he would make on the way down.
All of the kids that participated in the challenge were invited to celebrate with doughnuts and got to watch the free fall together. “The reaction from the kids was really positive,” Chris says. “They really loved it and were captivated during the entire fall.” While the school regularly engages in different reading promotions, few have had quite the same impact as the skydiving challenge. In the words of Dr. Seuss, “Reading can take you places you’ve never been before,” and Chris really took this to a whole new level.
Skydiving Kapowsin to Promote Reading
Chris had skydived before, so having the opportunity to infuse reading and education was a fun new twist for him. He was impressed with Skydive Kapowsin’s sense of community and grateful for Luke’s shared commitment to the next generation. “All of my projects are done to inspire people, especially kids, to make them see anything is possible,” says Luke. “Chris had a vision of a really cool way to help make reading exciting, so I asked Skydive Kapowsin to help me make this happen.” Kapowsin generously donated the plane flight and their time so Chris and Luke could make the jump for the kids.
After much organization and awaiting good weather, the skydive was able to be organized and conducted on May 10. After flying up to 15,000 feet, Chris and Luke jumped tandem with a one-minute free fall before pulling the chute at 4,500 feet. “We went a little extra high on this one so he would have time to read,” shares Luke. Chris was able to read 173 words during the free fall and finished the rest of the book under the canopy for a total of 440 words. Throughout the read, Chris only made six mistakes, which is quite the feat considering he was reading while plummeting back down to Earth.
After 32 years and over 20,000 jumps, this was still a unique experience for Luke as he purses exciting new ways to inspire those around him. Luke shared some advice for kids as they are trying new things: “Never let anyone tell you that something is impossible. Keep pushing until you hit a wall, then go around it or over it. Don’t be afraid to go outside of your comfort zone. That is where the best things happen.”
Keeping Reading Fun into the Future
Chris would like to thank Luke Aikins, Rebecca Muir, Gigi Olson, and Skydive Kapowsin for making this incredible experience possible for Southside Elementary School and its dedicated students. He hopes that they can continue to bring unique educational opportunities to kids so they are inspired to chase their dreams and foster a lifelong love of learning.