RI Ed Commissioner skydives for reading

Just a little before 3:30 this afternoon, Rhode Island Commissioner of Education Deborah Gist jumped out of an airplane 10,000 feet over Middletown.

Less than a minute later, she was gliding to a stop amid cheers from more than 80 students, parents, and staff from Blackstone Valley Prep who had come to Newport State airport to see her join their math teacher, Drew Madden, in a "dive into a book" celebrating the students' summer reading success.

Gist had never gone skydiving before, but wanted to do something memorable for the kids at BVP. "They smashed their summer reading goals," Gist told reporters. "I wanted to show them how accomplishing their goals could be celebrated in a special way."

"I'm a math teacher," Madden told harddeadlines, "But I'm doing it to show my dedication to literacy."

The two educators had been attentive students as Skydive Newport owner Marc Tripari delivered a pre-jump briefing, explaining how they would be harnessed to an experienced instructor who would take care of everything. "Just fall out of the airplane," said Tripari.

On the other side of the hangar, technician Joe Church was packing their parachutes -- a bright blue and yellow one for Commissioner Gist, and a red and yellow for Madden. Instructor Nicky Sergi had a few last minute words with Gist, then it was time to climb aboard the Cessna 182 for the ten minute climb up to altitude.

There was a blue sky and light winds, with scattered clouds at 5,000 feet. "Beautiful weather," said Tripani.

Kids, parents, and teachers from BVP craned their necks, watching the sky, until they saw the tiny red and blue chutes appear almost directly overhead. There were some gasps and cheers as both the skydivers did loops and turns above the crowd.

Just a few seconds apart, Madden and Gist skidded to safe landings on the grassy area near the hangar, and the crowd burst into cheers and applause.

The two educators were all smiles as they talked to reporters. "It doesn't really feel like falling," said Gist. "It feels like there's some control to it."

Madden agreed. "It feels like diving into water."

Before the jump, Gist had mused aloud to reporters. "How are we going to top this," she said. "What are we going to do next year?"

More photos up on Flickr.