Alex Schipull, a Parkview High School student, poses with staff of Springfield Public Schools, Ozarks Technical Community College, and Springfield flight school Premier Flight Center after winning his award to be a part of the first Fly SPS class. (Photo by Shannon Cay)

For Alex Schipull, the decision to apply for Springfield Public Schools’ new Fly SPS pilot training program was a personal one inspired by his uncle, who is autistic. 

“He’s really obsessed with planes,” Schipull said, and it’s a passion they’ve bonded over.

When Schipull spends time with his uncle, they’re often watching videos of different aircraft. Fly SPS, which next year will allow 10 high school students to get a jump start on obtaining their private pilot’s licenses, seemed to Schipull like a way to bring his uncle even closer to his passion through an aviation career path that interests the Parkview student. 

“I wanted to be able to give him that experience,” Schipull said. 

On May 17, Schipull found out he made the cut. Superintendent Grenita Lathan, wearing a captain’s hat, ambushed Schipull in his English class. As Lathan explained to the Parkview students that she was there to let one of them know they’ll be part of Fly SPS, eyes began to turn toward Schipull.

Springfield Public Schools Superintendent Grenita Lathan surprises the winners of the Fly SPS program May 17 at Parkview High School, giving students a start on obtaining their private pilot’s licenses. (Photo by Shannon Cay)

“Is it Alex?” Lathan asked rhetorically, and Schipull’s classmates first laughed, then applauded for him. 

Schipull will be part of one of the latest efforts to expand Springfield Public Schools’ career readiness programs. Fly SPS, in partnership with Ozarks Technical Community College and Springfield flight school Premier Flight Center, will put students through a two-year program designed to propel them toward earning pilot’s licenses. In the first year, the students will take a suite of classes designed to teach them the requirements needed to obtain a pilot’s license. In year two, they’ll get advanced aviation training. And then, should they choose, they can continue on a path to becoming a pilot through OTC’s aviation program with a two-year head start. 

About 50 students applied for the 10 slots available in the pilot program. Two students from each of the five SPS high schools were chosen. On Wednesday morning, Lathan, SPS leaders and representatives from OTC and Premier Flight Center touched down in 10 classrooms on the five campuses at a whirlwind speed one could only dream of in a TSA security checkpoint. On each stop, Lathan surprised a student selected for Fly SPS. 

Ozarks Technical Community College has a contract with Premier Flight Center to house a flight school at the Springfield-Branson National Airport. (Photo provided by OTC)

Dreams of a career in the skies

After Schipull learned he’ll get a chance to get his wings, Lathan and company headed to Aundrea Nelson’s class. Nelson held back a few tears after she learned she’d been selected. She said she’d never considered becoming a pilot until she learned about the Fly SPS program. She applied, she said, because it’s a good career opportunity. She already has a specific type of aviation career in mind. She said she wants to become a private pilot for celebrities. 

She and the rest of the first Fly SPS cohort will get started on their paths next school year. 

Prepared for liftoff: Here is the list of the first 10 Fly SPS students

Kickapoo High School: Bostyn Adkins, Toby May

Glendale High School: Thomas Brown, Kathryn Renkoski

Parkview High School: Aundrea Nelson, Alex Schipull

Central High School: Carter Meints, Chitrani Sharma

Hillcrest High School: Devon Ashley, Micah Hufman

For more info about Fly SPS, visit the website.

Cory Matteson

Cory Matteson moved to Springfield in 2022 to join the team of Daily Citizen journalists and staff eager to launch a local news nonprofit. He returned to the Show-Me State nearly two decades after graduating from the University of Missouri-Columbia. Prior to arriving in Springfield, he worked as a reporter at the Lincoln Journal Star and Casper Star-Tribune. More by Cory Matteson