Laura Zavala took a deep breath and cautiously lowered herself onto the front seat of the two-engine Cessna.
It was her first time in an airplane, she explained, stealing a second to wave at classmates from the rounded cockpit window. Minutes later, thousands of feet above the ground, under the watchful eye of the flight instructor, the 15-year-old Mexican native cautiously took the controls in her hands and steered the soaring Seneca."I'm so nervous," said Zavala, brushing an errant strand of hair from her face. "I hope I can just do it."
Zavala was one of 50 children of migrant farm workers who rode in airplanes and helped douse fires with Utah Valley State College instructors during a "career exploration" day at the Provo Municipal Airport.
Richard Kimball, director of the summer program for students who often miss classes during harvest and planting seasons, hopes the activities will spark an interest in such technical vocations.
Exposure to life beyond low-paying, backbreaking farm work helps them realize their potential, said Kimball, a bilingual five-year veteran of the Nebo School District program.
"Never in their lives have they thought they'd be able to fly in a plane. They were saying, `Are we really going on an airplane or are you just pulling our legs?' " he said. "For a lot of the kids, it is the ultimate. It builds the self-esteem. If they figure out they can do this, they can do other things."
Besides taking flights around Utah Valley skies, the students also took turns climbing the hook and ladder on a fire truck and spraying a high-pressure water hose.
"Getting in the fire truck and playing around that was so bad," said Marcos Montanyo, 13, an eighth grader at Payson Middle School. He was poised to use a red fire extinguisher to put out a crackling fire in a garbage can.
"Remember to pull, aim, squeeze and sweep," said instructor Gary Noll, explaining the proper way to smother a fire with chemicals. "Hopefully, you'll get an idea of what firefighters do and what you'll want to be. The door is open, if that is what you want to do."
Noll said the students who speak both English and Spanish have an advantage when looking for public safety jobs. Many police and fire agencies prefer candidates with foreign language skills so they can interpret in emergency situations, he said.
Watching the group gleefully aim a powerful stream of water at a bucket, Terry L. Spoor, associate director of the Utah Fire and Rescue Academy, said he is always looking for good recruits for the firefighting ranks.
"With all aspects of public safety, especially in this region, being bilingual is a great asset," Spoor said. "It takes a lot to put out a fire. This gives an opportunity to let these folks see what we do, folks who are looking for career options."
Joel Bradford said he's always wanted to find a good way to connect the UVSC apprenticeship department with the Nebo classes. He helped raise $1,000 through various UVSC and federal programs to fund the event.
"These kids come from backgrounds with limited futures," Bradford said. "We hope to give them experiences that will help them understand that they have options beyond life in the fields. If they can fly an airplane or put out a fire, they can choose their own career and get the education and training they need to prepare for it."