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Portrait of a Graduate
At Mapleton Public Schools, we provide students with the education, resources and opportunities to achieve their dreams. We support a college and career-going culture where students graduate ready and excited for their next adventure. To spotlight the adventures and achievements of Mapleton graduates, we are excited to introduce Portrait of a Graduate.
If you are a Mapleton graduate and would like to share your story as a part of a Portrait of a Graduate, we invite you to contact us! Send your story to firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to hearing from you!
Cadets in Flight - Julyssa Casillas and Briana FrairePosted by Melissa Johnson on 8/30/2021
Cadets in Flight
Read the stories of two Mapleton graduates who are achieving dreams at a cruising altitude of 900 (or more) feet
Julyssa Casillas, Academy High School Class of 2019
Julyssa Casillas remembers the exact day she decided she wanted her name tag to say ‘pilot.’
“I was visiting an airplane hangar on an Air Force JROTC field trip.” Julyssa participated in Mapleton’s JROTC program all four years of high school. She had always been fascinated with military planes, but never thought her interests would escalate into much, especially not into a career. At the hangar, she walked past rows of gliders, each with a photo and biography of the glider’s pilot.
“There was this picture of a woman who had a plane named after her,” Julyssa said. “I remember thinking, I want my name on a plane and a name tag that says ‘pilot.’ The woman in the photo was so young and already so successful. I started thinking that maybe I could do that, too.”
She pitched her idea to Lt. Col. William Arrington, Senior Aerospace Science Instructor in Mapleton, who told her about the Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force Flight Academy Scholarship Program, a prestigious and highly competitive flight program. She studied, applied, and became one of 120 recipients from around the country selected to receive a $20,000 scholarship to attend a two-month aviation program at Kansas State University.
After graduating in 2019, she prepared to take flight. Julyssa was one of just three young women in the 20-person program and was also one of the only students without previous flight experience. The instructors were unlike any teacher she’d ever had, and the learning curve was big and admittedly intimidating. But quitting wasn’t an option.
“I didn’t want other people to think that they can’t do this because they did not come from a high school with a huge emphasis on aviation, or because they did not have money for flight school at age 15,” Julyssa said. “I was going to do it because I wanted to show other kids that they could do it, too.”
Just a few weeks under the two-month mark, COVID-19 unexpectedly and inconveniently shuttered the flight program in Kansas. Julyssa returned home to Colorado and continued flying lessons at the Erie Airport. It was there that she trained with the pilot who would inspire her to add another title to her name tag, ‘instructor.’
“She was amazing,” Julyssa said about her first flight instructor in Colorado. “Everything that I came in with…flaws, skills, and lack of knowledge, she was so accommodating. She always found a way to approach the situation so that she could be a better teacher to me, and I could be a better student. She’s a big factor in me wanting to become an instructor because she was so patient.”
Unfortunately, as the pandemic intensified, so did the time between lessons.
“You are in such close contact with the instructors,” Julyssa said about the growing health and safety concerns. The pause in flight went from months to a year. She reached out to Lt. Col. Arrington for advice. He connected her with another former Mapleton cadet, Briana Fraire, who works and flies out of Front Range Airport.
Briana helped Julyssa get back into the pilot’s seat and, whether intended or not, helped to broaden her air space experience. “The air space is totally different,” she said about her move to Front Range Airport. “Heavy traffic, big planes, and much higher stakes.” The most difficult part, she says, is communicating with Air Traffic Control.
“They can talk very fast, and they use the phonetic alphabet…it’s like a different language,” she says. “But I’m getting the hang of it.
Julyssa works 40 hours a week to pay for flight school, and trains for four hours a day, two days a week. She recently secured her private pilot license, meaning she now flies without an instructor. She plans to pursue a career in air ambulance and may become a flight instructor to continue to pay forward the quality teachers that helped her so much. She also wants to do her part to make the pilot community more welcoming to women.
Although it is something her parents never expected from the girl who doesn’t like roller coasters or even jumping in pools, they could not be prouder of her goals, dedication, and accomplishments.
To Mapleton students, Julyssa offers the following advice, “Dare to be that one percent, or that five percent. Go to those places where you feel like you cannot fit in because there is not much diversity. In the beginning, it will be hard on your confidence and pride but it’s important you don’t get stuck in that mindset.”
Julyssa said that it has been hard to work past her feelings of failure, but she is now confident in her abilities and is excited to really push herself.
“Don’t let the stereotypes or standards stick in your head,” she said. “Push past and prove to yourself that you are capable of doing these things. It is worth it. I still cannot believe I’m doing what I am doing!”
Briana Fraire, Skyview Academy Class of 2012
Briana Fraire was 900 feet above her parent’s home in Thornton, piloting a small and familiar Cessna four-seater when her family jubilantly surrendered to the fact that flying was not just a fleeting phase. For Briana, it’s a lifestyle.
“It’s funny, actually, because I am afraid of heights,” Briana said. “But if you ask around, you’d find out that most pilots are.”
Briana is a 2012 graduate from Skyview Academy, present-day Academy High School. When she was a junior, Mapleton introduced the Air Force Junior ROTC Program. Eager for engaging extracurriculars, she was quick to accept the title of the squadron’s first Vice Commander.
Briana realized that her dreams were waiting for her at a cruising altitude of 36,000 feet during an Air Force JROTC field trip.
“I grew a passion for flying when Col. Arrington took us to a flight program in Erie with the Young Eagles,” Briana said. “Private pilots take you up in a plane, and I remember thinking, ‘this is cool!’”
After graduating Briana packed her bags for flight school but embraced a small detour upon reaching a college-bound compromise with her parents. She was accepted to the Metropolitan State University of Denver where she studied Aviation and Aerospace. While studying satellites, space, and aviation, her passion for flying continued to grow.
“I was a junior in college when I realized I had to go to flight school to achieve the flight portion of my career goals,” Briana said. She enrolled at Front Range Flight School and began filling every free moment she had with flight training.
Today, Briana has logged more than 400 hours of flying and is chipping away at her goal of becoming a commercial pilot for an airline or cargo company, which requires 1,500 hours of flight experience. She received her commercial certificate in August and is still building time – and confidence – in pursuit of her dream. Her most memorable trip was this past summer when she flew over her house and her entire family was standing outside to cheer her on from the front yard. One day she hopes her most memorable trip will be an international flight.
Recent statistics from the International Society of Women Airline Pilots show that a mere 5 percent of pilots are women, and a tiny 1.42 percent of all captains are women.
“In my graduating class in aviation I was one of two women, and we were both Hispanic,” Briana said. “It’s nice to stand out sometimes, and I know this will help women in the future consider flying as a career.” Briana is a member of the Ninety-Nines International Organization of Women Pilots, which was established by 99 women pilots in 1929. The Ninety-Nines promote the advancement of aviation through education, scholarships, and mutual support while honoring the unique history and passion for flight.
When asked for one thing people misunderstand about flying?
“You can always glide down, no matter what.”