Each November, Central Florida Aerospace Academy students who have soloed or earned a pilot certificate in the past year are presented with a personalized brick that is laid into the walkway that leads to the entrance of the Lakeland, Florida, school. A visible reminder of their achievement becomes a permanent part of the school’s structure.
The ceremony went on this year, even in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. And while it has been an unusual year, there was one other uncommon element to the 2020 celebration: The final brick recipient wasn’t a student at all, but someone just as beloved and respected.
Cory Suttle serves as the school resource officer at Central Florida Aerospace Academy. Employed as an officer with the Lakeland Police Department, Suttle had long considered getting into aviation as a hobby. He never was able to take that first step, however, until he was moved by the students he has been charged to serve and protect.
As his young charges got involved in flight training and began to find success, Suttle had an epiphany. “Being out at the school and immersed in aviation,” he said, “I didn’t have an excuse not to do it.”
That decision to sign up for flight lessons may have been initiated because of a perceived professional necessity, or it may have been more of a personal quest. Whatever the ultimate cause, it happened. Today, Suttle is a private pilot.
“Part of the job of an SRO is to reach out and make connections with the kids,” Suttle explained. “Being such a specialized school like that I can’t think of a better way to connect.”
And connect they did. “When they found out I was learning, the kids would ask how I was coming along,” Suttle said. It wasn’t long before the students began comparing notes with their school resource officer, asking about their challenges and offering advice about how Suttle might overcome his own flight training hurdles. Over time the bond between students and the school’s SRO became stronger and more personal—enough so that Suttle was invited to participate in the school’s premier celebration of the year by accepting and placing his brick in the walkway with their own.
When asked about his feelings about being an SRO at a public high school where the students focus on aviation, Suttle said, “It’s a pleasure to be a part of it.”
A sentiment that is mutually shared by the students, teachers, and administrators at Central Florida Aerospace Academy as well.