Paul Harper's class at R.B. Stall High School was supposed to be practicing isometric drawings Thursday afternoon, tracing and shading until three-dimensional figures emerged on the lined paper.
But as may be expected of high school students, especially with a holiday weekend a day away, what was intended to be a period of quiet concentration quickly became an opportunity for the teenagers to banter. One boy disparaged the school's volleyball team, which led to chatter about softball, then cross-country.
"So how did isometric sketches evolve into sports?" Harper asked, in that friendly needling way teachers try to keep students on task.
But Corey Ellis and Trey Burroughs were still concerned with whether soccer or baseball players are the highest-paid athletes, so Corey, a redheaded 16-year-old sophomore, responded to Harper with his own question. Who does make the most?
"Engineers," Harper said, prompting a few snickers.
But the Aeronautical Studies Academy at the Ashley Phosphate Road school is no joke.
It's one of Boeing's main math and science education initiatives in the vicinity of its new 787 Dreamliner production facility, and the company has invested not only money but time and effort.
Last year, Boeing gave the school district $50,000 to train teachers such as Harper. Earlier this year, the company gave an additional $371,000 for math and science teacher training. Harper, who is currently enrolled in a 75 percent-Boeing-funded science certification program at the College of Charleston, said Boeing also bankrolled computer equipment and lockers in his classroom.
"It's more than just money," Stall Principal Kim Wilson insisted.
Last year, he said, two Boeing employees came to the school on a weekly basis to speak with Harper's students and mentor them. For Stall's majority-black and high-poverty student body, having the successful black men as regular visitors was a big deal. He expects them back this year.
"They look sharp, they talk sharp, and they're great role models for our kids," said Wilson, a West Virginia native who spent 25 years at Wando High School before leading Stall.
Two other Boeing employees sit on the board of the aeronautical program, and the company also has offered curricular and other guidance. Wilson said he frequently consults with Geoff Schuler, site integration leader for Boeing in South Carolina, about ideas for new mentoring or training connections between the high school, Trident Technical College and Boeing.
"It's nice to have whatever money they're giving us, but to be able to pick up the phone and say, 'What do you think?'" is at least as valuable, said Wilson, whose son is a Citadel graduate and now a Boeing engineer.
Harper's Principles of Engineering class is typical high school in some ways: the boys tease the girls, and there's talk of who's a nerd and who rides the bus to school. But Classroom B203B and what goes on there is also unusual.
The place is brimming with technology, including a 3-D printer on a back table, which transforms input drawings, like the students' isometric sketches, into plastic models. Flying machines made of cardboard, Styrofoam and wood hang from the ceiling and the walls. And the kids envision careers in computer programming or space flight.
Considering the company's various contributions and the prestige that rubs off on Stall, Boeing "gives us a program that will allow (our students) to go out and be successful," Wilson said.
Corey, the redheaded sophomore whose interests range from drawing to building with Legos, had another question for Harper.
"What's the hardest ones on here?" Corey asked, pointing to the page of isometric figures the students are expected to replicate.
The teacher circled a row of curved shapes.
"How many of these do you want me to do?"
"As many as you can," Harper told him.
Reach Brendan Kearney at 937-5906 and follow him at twitter.com/kearney_brendan.