After showing the students the many vintage World War I and Golden Age aircraft, the team left the museum with a mission.
"They wanted our help to restore some of the planes, and we said the only way we could help was raising money. So we started to raise money," eighth-grader Hunter Fossati said.
So in May 2013, the team hosted the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome Day at the middle school, followed by a movie and dinner event, and donated the proceeds to the museum.
This year's flight team, many of whom are fifth-graders, is hosting the maiden flight of a 1918 Albatros at an air show at the museum on Saturday, May 24.
Birdsall, a former pilot, said the kids were instrumental in helping to restore the plane to flight status. The fundraiser netted $4,000 in donations.
Birsdsall spends four hours a week with the students, whom she calls the technology leaders of tomorrow.
She said the group is not only learning about flying, but they're building websites, computers, 3D printers and go-karts.
The flight team, which started eight years ago and meets twice a week after school, continues to innovate and amaze parents, school staff and Birdsall herself.
"As a math teacher, I never realized what they were going to be capable of doing," she said. "Look at how young they are and the things that they're capable of doing."
The after-school club now has the first girls' flight team.
One of the members, fifth-grader Hanah Swimm, said she wants to fly planes when she's older, but "not like a job." Flying will be her hobby, she said.
Birdsall, who volunteers at the aerodrome, said the museum asked her to bring the kids in so it could increase its education involvement.
"They asked if I was interested in helping them with their museum and their education piece because they didn't know anybody who knew anything about aviation and education," she said. "I brought them all there and they were amazed at what they saw. They were very excited."
Ken Cassens, chief mechanic at the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome, led the restoration of the Albatros, which hadn't flown in about 10 years, over the summer. Birdsall said some of the students visited the site regularly since then to watch the work being done.
Birdsall said the flight team will be of great help next school year when Saxe implements its first Science, Technology, Engineering and Math program. The Board of Education recently approved an expansion of the STEM program.
"I could not imagine doing the daytime STEM courses without having these guys in," she said. "We're working on a schedule right now so we can include these guys."
She said each student is in charge of a "division" so the child can "take responsibility for things."
"The ideas behind this are the collaboration, the cooperation, the creativity, the thought process," Birdsall said. "That's what this is about. We're using technology as a platform."
Chip Mahoney, a New Canaan High School sophomore who joined the club when he was in middle school, still returns to help and work with the team.
"There are certain ways that the divisions kind of cross over," he said, "which is great because everybody helps out one another. It's a very large web of help."
Birdsall credits the team's success to the resources available in the district and their own energy.
"These are kids from New Canaan. They're pretty ambitious to start with," she said. "I think this kind of environment not only exposes them to new possibilities, it exposes me to new possibilities. They come up with stuff I'd never thought about."
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