Liftoff for C Students: Pilot Tries to Help Them Soar

By Montgomery, Christine | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), September 4, 1997 | Go to article overview

Liftoff for C Students: Pilot Tries to Help Them Soar


Montgomery, Christine, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Peter Underwood goes after the ones in the middle. They're not the really bad students; they're not the ones excelling. They're the C students who don't recognize the value of algebra, or worse, an education. He goes after them and gives them a reason to try.

"When you hit about 12, you enter a phase in your life. I call it a `mental pause,' " says Mr. Underwood, founder of Reach for Tomorrow (RFT), a nonprofit organization that uses hands-on methods to give youngsters a motivational kick in the pants.

"How you emerge from that phase unscathed depends on the people you bump into along the way."

Forget the bump. Even a nudge from Mr. Underwood, a pilot for American Airlines from Fairfax, is enough to give most teens and preteens a clearer view of their future.

Since 1993, he's taken about 700 area high school students through his program, which includes a weeklong trip to one of several military academies and colleges. Once there, the students fly planes, steer ships, work in scientific labs and spend a lot of time talking with cadets and college students.

They see that military academies offer a free education to qualified students - although Mr. Underwood, himself a graduate of the Air Force Academy, is quick to point out that he is in no way recruiting. If they're motivated to do good work in high school, those same kids can go to a state or private institution on scholarships, he says.

"They'll be in a position to be competitive for any kind of school. One of the reasons I use the academies is because I don't know where else I could find a large student body that lives by an honor code and talks about issues like character, honor, integrity and ethics - things critical for character development," he says.

In fact, the military code resembles RFT's: attitude, attendance and achievement. Those are the group's goals for each student, Mr. Underwood, 47, says.

Recently, RFT took 24 Washington area students to the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, N.Y. Mr. Underwood flew with them on a C-130 military plane piloted by members of the New York Air National Guard. …

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