Aside from the braces on his teeth, you'd never know the pilot who took me on a tour high above DuPage and Kane counties had recently turned 18. Or that he'd been flying for a little less than two weeks.

Michael Hogue is one of nine cadets who live, eat and sleep aviation at the DuPage Airport in West Chicago as part of this summer's Tuskegee NEXT program aimed at giving at-risk youths a path to careers in aviation -- and a pilot's license in the process.

The program, in its second year, was founded by DuPage Airport Authority Chairman Steve Davis and named after the Tuskegee Airmen, the pioneering black military pilots who fought in World War II. Davis has paid for the students' classes by donating some of the money himself and raising more through private donations.

'Rising above'

Cadets forgo other summer activities and live apart from their families for the two-month stretch. They rise early each day in their dorms at Wheaton College and rarely quit studying before 11 p.m. Instruction is half in the classroom, with lessons on plane mechanics and flight patterns, and half in the air, first with an instructor, then solo.

Tuskegee NEXT program Cadet Julie Torres, 17, of Chicago had never been on a plane before enrolling in the intense, two-month program that teaches teens to fly and provides a path to a career in aviation. Mark Black | Staff Photographer

Julie Torres, 17, of Brighton Park had never been on a plane before she joined the program but was drawn to it after learning just 5 percent of pilots nationwide are Hispanic.

"It's made me independent," she said, "and face my fears."

Hogue, of Chicago, plans to study mathematics, then aerospace engineering at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, in the fall.

"Even after a few weeks, I feel like the people here really care about me," he said. "I'm determined to make as much of this opportunity as I can."

Katie's favorite color

Parents from Field Elementary School in Park Ridges have organized a ribbon campaign to pay tribute to the 7-year-old student who died after collapsing during a cheerleading camp at Maine South High School last week.

"Ribbons for Kate" is underway with people across the city tying ribbons of dark purple -- Kate Babich's favorite color -- around trees outside their homes and businesses.

U-46 measure to Rauner

Along with intense, eleventh-hour budget negotiations last week, the Illinois legislature passed a bill allowing Elgin Area School District U-46 CEO Tony Sanders to be superintendent for up to five years as he works to get credentialed for the position.

Sanders took the helm of the state's second-largest school district in 2014 after former Superintendent Jose Torres resigned to head the Illinois Math and Science Academy in Aurora. But because Sanders lacked certification, the school board hired retired Community Unit District 300 Superintendent Kenneth Arndt to be a part-time, interim superintendent while Sanders did many day-to-day aspects of the job.

The measure, pushed by the U-46 board as a practical solution, passed the Senate unanimously in April and the House by a 100-11 vote on Thursday. It's now awaiting Gov. Bruce Rauner's signature.

Taking the plunge

Sanders declined to comment on the measure's progress. He did note, however, he'll be jumping out of a plane at the behest of the Army's Golden Knights at the Chicago Air and Water Show Aug. 20-21. How did that come about? "They asked, and I said yes," Sanders replied.

St. Charles native Chris Kaergard, a political reporter for the Peoria Journal Star, will finally get to shave after pledging more than a year ago to keep growing a beard until Illinois had a budget. courtesy of Chris Kaergard
Today's snap

St. Charles native Chris Kaergard, a political reporter for the Peoria Journal Star, will finally get to shave after pledging more than a year ago to keep growing a beard until Illinois had a budget.

He thought at the time that he'd have to let his usual goatee grow for no more than six weeks. Kaergard says he plans to shave the beard at a charity event that's still being arranged. He notes the facial hair reprieve is only temporary, as is the state's stopgap budget.

"I'm open to suggestions for something else I can begin to do instead of a beard until a full FY17 budget passes," he says.

Happy Fourth

Here's to a safe and happy Fourth of July to you all. I'll be taking the next few days off to relax with family and friends, catch up on reading and boost my running miles. I'll leave you with a favorite passage from the Declaration of Independence, which I try to read every Independence Day.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.

Read the full declaration online at the National Archives' site,