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Flying high above the crowd at Inter-Lakes Elementary School

Students cheer as the RE/MAX hot-air balloon lifts off in the air. Sarah Schmidt. (click for larger version)
May 27, 2009
MEREDITH — Encouraging their ambitions to fly just as high, supporters and teachers of a business education program launched a hot-air balloon on the Inter-Lakes High School grounds.

RE/MAX Bayside brought one of the two New England RE/MAX hot-air balloons to Inter-Lakes last week as a treat for students. They watched as the enormous balloon unfolded from a flat piece of canvas into a bright floating beacon above the school, watching their principals and teachers take a quick ride on the tethered balloon.

The event capped a year of lessons with business leaders in the community, especially RE/MAX Bayside, in the Junior Achievement Program. Rhonda Hanaway, a teacher and agent with RE/MAX Bayside, said that local business leaders would come into the ILES classrooms and teach students about being an entrepreneur, and about going into business.

"We talked about how you can build international companies, all kinds of things," said Hanaway. "We had the great idea to bring the balloon out and show (the students) what you can do if you put your mind to it, and stick with your plan and what you want to do."

Business is an important part of students' education, said Hanaway, who noted the different forms of education the students had received. She remembered that they taught students about different kinds of businesses, how they can be owned, the products they produce, resources, and how businesses were built. Students even role played interviews and assembly lines with Hanaway, demonstrating how a pen was assembled, or how a student could leave a good impression with a prospective employer.

Science would also play a role later that day, said Hanaway, noting that the RE/MAX balloon pilot, Bruce Byberg, would be visiting classrooms to explain to students how he is able to control the movements of a hot-air balloon. He would also teach them about the physics that made it possible for him to float the balloon above the school grounds.

Byberg fired up the fans that inflated the balloon, thrilling students as it slowly unfolded and began to float. Agents and employees of RE/MAX Bayside were recruited to tether the balloon to the ground, making certain that the ropes holding it down did not tangle and held firm.

In the first basket to hover over students' heads, ILES Principal Steve Kelley, Vice-Principal Kay Mulcahy, and Hanaway waved at their students, who waved back frantically. Kelley donned a tie of Curious George struggling with a bunch of balloons for the occasion.

As the balloon touched down and let them out, making several more trips with new passengers, the wind picked up a bit, causing a few white knuckles as the descending balloon blew slightly off course.

"It was neat, I've never done that before," said Mulcahy. "It was exciting for all the kids. I'd like to go again, but untethered this time."

Many of the students thought the exercise was "pretty cool," though some were slightly disappointed that they couldn't ride up in the basket themselves. For security and safety reasons, only teachers and administrators could sign on to ride the balloon

"I think it's pretty cool," said Kailee Bennett, 10, in the fourth grade. "I think the kids should be able to go up with it."

"I think it was really cool," said Makayla Leeber, 10, in the fourth grade. "I learned that you shouldn't get too close to the balloon or you'll get hit in the head."

The balloon is one of two in New England, and is often seen at the Rotary Fishing Derby in February, floating above Meredith Bay.

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