The Sky’s the Limit : Cornerstone donates $1.9K to ESJ drone program 

Published 5:26 am Wednesday, January 29, 2020

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RESERVE — East St. John High School’s new drone program is flying high with a $1,900 donation from Cornerstone Chemical Company, and tech-savvy students in the class say the sky’s the limit to their future endeavors.

When Jacques Byrd’s son joined the East St. John robotics club, he was excited to tell his family a drone program was coming to his school. Byrd works as a purchasing manager for Cornerstone, and he’s seen firsthand how technology enhances safety. He requested a donation from the plant to benefit the drone program.

“Drone flight is one of those STEM subjects that’s becoming more and more useful in industry,” Byrd said. “It allows us to get a bird’s eye view of areas that are very difficult to reach within the plant. It keeps us from putting humans in danger by allowing us to fly a piece of equipment either inside the tank or over water to inspect a dock, or in the air to look at a vessel or flare without having to put a human out there.”

As Cornerstone representatives presented the check Monday, a drone contractor worked onsite at their Waggaman facility to collect overhead shots for marketing materials.

“As technology improves, there is going to be greater demand for services with these types of capabilities,” Byrd said. “These technologies are only going to get more advanced in the future and more entwined in everyday life. Young people have yet another opportunity to move forth and do great things.”

East St. John instructor Beverly Reed said the Cornerstone donation was an example of strong parental support. At a football game in the fall, she told the Byrd family the drone class was supposed to begin in fall 2019 but was delayed until spring 2020. That delay became a blessing as Reed worked closely with Cornerstone to receive funding.

Students enrolled in the class will learn skills with real world applications, and they will earn a certification from taking the Federal Aviation Administration test.

“In my drone class, students are learning the rules of a real pilot,” Reed said. “They are learning about the different classes of air space and how to think like a real pilot. They are learning the safety of flying a drone and how high it’s supposed to fly. To go higher than 400 feet, we would need to get special permission. Because of parent support and Cornerstone’s participation in this community effort, it really put a fire in us.”

Sophomore Terrell Berzat was excited to enroll in the drone class, and he wants to absorb as much knowledge as possible so he can be a leader in class demonstrations. Learning the military alphabet and how to read the clouds are lessons that have stuck out to him thus far, and he’s already taught his teacher how to flip a drone in mid-air.

Student Kyra Thomas is a hands-on learner, and she is mostly interested in the robotics portion of her STEM classes. She feels creative energy flow within her as she builds a machine, and she hopes to build upon those skills by learning how to program.

Students Katie Loranca and Amorri Jones have been diligent in coming in after school and fundraising to get the program off the ground.

Another student, Stevan Wilson, has had an interest in engineering from the time he started building structures out of LEGOs.

“I think it’s an amazing opportunity, not only for me, but for other kids in this class,” Wilson said. “Maybe further down the line we will create something like a new prosthetic arm or a robot that will be able to deliver things. The sky’s the limit. Kids who have never thought about doing this may find out they are into it. I think I have finally found my pathway. I’m just ready for the adventure.”

Reed feels the same excitement for the future, for herself and for her students. She found out from the Civil Air Patrol that students can continue training and learn how to become an actual pilot. It’s free for high school students, and adults can pay to enroll in the training.

“I’m so excited because I never thought I would move to another platform,” Reed said. “Now, I can become a pilot at 51 years old. If my parents were alive, they would be smiling at me right now.”

JoLena Broussard, corporate affairs and communication representative for Cornerstone, said the company is happy to assist the next generation of leaders.

“Cornerstone is heavily committed to giving back to our community, especially where our employees live and work,” Broussard said. “These kids are our future engineers, our future chemists and future drone pilots. Being able to provide the $1,900 to help this program become a success is amazing.”