What happens when educators and administrators look past traditional curriculum guidelines and reflect back on the aspirations they had as children? Revolutionary thinking occurs that allows educators to offer inspiration and experiential knowledge of subjects that students don’t usually gain access to until much later in their academic careers.
This very phenomenon is occurring in a quiet district in Aspen Colorado. Led by Greg Roark, Director of the newly created aeronautics program in the Aspen School District – AERO AV8R Program, he hopes his lifelong fervor rubs off on students at a time when America is in the midst of a technological evolution.
The school district — recognizing that a critical problem within the American education system is most students’ lack of motivation and desire to pursue a career in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM — is introducing the AERO AV8R program spanning from kindergarten to 12th grade.
Led by Roark, 52, the program is designed to provide an experiential-learning environment focused on aeronautics and to encourage and excite students to pursue a career in the sciences.
Those wanting to learn more about the program can visit the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport today, Friday or Saturday as part of the Aspen AERO Expo. The fundraising event is designed to raise awareness about the program and demonstrate how aeronautics will be integrated into the Aspen School District. More details can be found at www.aspenpitkin.com/Portals/0/docs/county/Com%20Dev/Planning/Land_Use_Applications/SP013_13_app.pdf.
THE ART OF AERONAUTICS
Raised in the Ozarks of southwest Missouri, Roark’s passion for flying began at age 6 after his first flight. He has since helped develop and launch the Southwest Aeronautics, Mathematics and Science Academy, also known as SAMS, in Albuquerque, N.M. The charter school opened in September and is designed to integrate STEM and aeronautics into the core curriculum.
Roark is now in the process of incorporating similar concepts from SAMS into the Aspen School District curriculum. However, he is making a significant addition to a STEM education by adding an “A” for arts, making it STEAM. In order to include an artistic component, the program provides students with the opportunity to build and design aircraft.
Nicky Byrne, 22, is an Aspen resident and recently graduated from the University of North Dakota with a bachelor’s degree in aerospace sciences. Byrne said he believes art is an essential element to aeronautics.
“Adding the ‘A’ is important because a lot of times the individuals who excel in these fields tend to have a very left-brain, linear form of thinking. Incorporating the art factor will help develop a more creative side, which is necessary to be successful in this industry,” Byrne said.
Having to wait until college to begin his aerospace education, Byrne said he would have loved if this program existed when he went through the Aspen school system.
“The Aspen AERO AV8R program is designed to show relevance,” Roark said. “We have to come up with a new generation of kids who know how to build products and services that the rest of the world needs. How else are we going to do it if not for igniting little fires like this program?”
One way to spark a student’s interest is the Redbird FMX Full-Motion Flight Simulator. Redbird is certified by the Federal Aviation Administration and qualifies as a supplement to a pilot’s required flight training. (The simulator feels so much like flying that Roark said he must keep paper bags inside in case students get nauseated on the flight.) This advanced aviation-training device is the backbone of the AERO AV8R program in that it allows aeronautics to serve as a model in almost every school subject.
“Having Redbird as a resource, teachers would have an opportunity, because of its capability, to basically show any city in the world that has an airport. It would be a great opportunity for kids to use it for geography courses, world history, art and architecture,” said John Maloy, superintendent of the Aspen School District. “In the near future, I see content-area teachers, who are used to working strictly within their own content, reaching across the aisle doing some cross-pollination with other teachers in different content areas, talking about how they can create relevancy between and among departments through the topic of aviation.”