Arlen Sykes wins the Aerospace Education Excellence Award
Kyrene de la Colina 5th grade teacher Arlen Sykes stands with some of his students. Sykes has won the Aerospace Education Excellence Award from the Civil Air Patrol the last five years. Travis Roemhild/AFN

Arlen Sykes shows that to get students interested in math and science, all you need is a little creativity.

The fifth-grade teacher at Kyrene de la Colina Elementary in Ahwatukee Foothills, who has worked as an instructor at a flight control school, has created a buzz on campus when it comes to science, specifically aerospace. He started the Aerospace Club five years ago at Colina, which has about 30 regular members. All fifth-graders at the school also participate in lessons from the Aerospace Connection in Education (ACE), in which Sykes is certified. They recently received the Excellence in Aerospace Education Award by the Civil Air Patrol.

In the Aerospace Club Sykes said students learn the science behind daily occurrences and movement of objects, which includes an activity in which they build liquid rockets.

"The whole idea is to get kids interested in not just aerospace but STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and more," he said. "Over the last few years, I've put together a program where kids get to explore science in hands-on and interesting ways."

Sykes took the students to Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix in what he thought was just going to be a quick look around the concourse. The trip proved to be a unique opportunity.

"We went everywhere, including to the firehouse and the US Airways Flight training center," he said. "It was beyond my expectations. We got to take turns in a $35 million simulator. And for me, it was, how am I going to top that this year?"

Their most recent trip made the flying experience a little more real.

In February, they went to Stellar Airpark in Chandler. The students toured the airpark and got to take a ride in a small plane owned by Sykes' friend, Ben Schulte.

"The kids were very excited about that," he said. "But I think, when they come to the group initially, they are only expecting to do cool things. But a lot of it is learning the science behind why things work the way they do."

Sykes was in the U.S. Navy and, among other duties, was as an assistant air transfer officer and worked with helicopters and fixed-wing aircrafts.

He was recently named the Aerospace Education Teacher of the Year for the Southwest Region by the Civil Air Patrol and is in contention for national top honors. If Sykes wins, he will receive the award at a celebration in Atlanta.

Zach DuBois and his family nominated Sykes for the award.

"I just think he is the best teacher in the whole world," Dubois said.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-4903 or

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.