Ever since high school senior Antonio first rode on a plane, he has wanted to be a pilot. With help from his tutor, Stan Birnbaum, he’s mastered enough math to fulfill that dream in the fall when he starts learning to fly.
“I was 8 years old when I took my first flight,” said Antonio, who flies to see relatives and on trips with his church, Zoe Life Ministries, in which he has always been very active. “There was a big thunderstorm. When we came out of it and I saw the clouds and the sun, it was just a great feeling. I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”
He’ll get that chance next fall when he enters the Institute of Aviation at Parkland Community College in Champaign, one of the top three aviation programs in Illinois. Once he graduates from Parkland, he can go on to earn a four-year degree at several schools affiliated with the institute. Parkland guarantees its graduates placement as a regional pilot.
Stan and Antonio have tutored together since Antonio was in the 4th grade, and both said that working with each other has been “great!”
“One of a top things I struggled with is math,” Antonio said. “But I made it through, with help.”
Stan is retired from a career with the Social Security Administration and once taught math in the Chicago Public Schools. “He’ll need some math skills as a pilot,” Stan said. “Antonio has always had a great attitude — he’s been willing to learn and to study.
“It’s been great watching him mature through the years,” he added. Besides school work, the two have enjoyed learning about different foods and cultures — “random things,” Stan said.
Besides the idea of flying, singing is the other great love in Antonio’s life. He is in the advanced choir at Schurz High School and serves as his church’s choir director. Combining those two passions has put him in line for a scholarship through the Flying Musicians Association, which offers assistance in tuition, housing, and flight time. His high school choir director wrote him a letter of recommendation for the scholarship, which could help not only for the two-year program at Parkland but also for a degree at a four-year college.
Antonio already has studied aspects of flying. He joined the Tuskegee Airman Young Eagles Program, aimed at students as young as 12, which teaches skills for co-pilots. “They take you up in the air” with a pilot, he said. “They taught us to operate the controls.” Antonio would take a bus once a month from the South Side to Gary International Airport, where the program was based.
All of that experience will serve him well when he starts at Parkland. For Antonio, you might say that — literally — the sky is the limit.