School districts are discovering that through special academic career programs they have an opportunity offer aerospace technology for high school students.
Using a mouse and keypad, and speaking to each other softly yet confidently, two Oakleaf High School freshmen lifted the aircraft smoothly into the sky and over an oceanic landscape before making a 30-degree turn toward its destination.
It was a perfect takeoff — and it wasn’t a video game. It was part of a mid-year exam using a passenger jet simulator in Oakleaf’s Academy of Aerospace Technology program. Upon expertly landing the plane, the young trainees both made A’s.
“We’re doing pretty much the same things with the plane and the instrument panel that we would be doing if we were in the cockpit,” Justin said as he and Christian readily provided definitions of the altimeter, tachometer and other instrument devices and indicators.
Nearby, about 20 of their classmates conducted similar exercises at other computers on a recent Monday.
“Who wouldn’t like this class?” Justin asked.
The aeronautics academy prepares students for careers as pilots, jobs in general aviation maintenance, and as air traffic controllers. The program’s instructors say they expect 38 students to obtain Federal Aviation Administration Ground School pilot certification when the burgeoning program’s first cohort of students completes the four-year program in June.
Having opened less than four years ago, the school is new and rapidly growing, so that number is expected to increase to as many as 65 FAA certificate recipients in 2015, and even more afterward.
“Seeing the students learning with such enthusiasm, working together and preparing for college and their careers is very exciting for all of us here — the teachers, administrators, the business partners and volunteers who help and are such an important part of what we do,” said Oakleaf Vice Principal Michelle Daly. “We see this level of commitment from students participating in all nine of our career programs.”
For Justin, Christian and their classmates, this certainly isn’t their parents’ high school learning environment. Their instructors are pilots; and, elsewhere at Oakleaf and throughout the Clay County School District, students are earning industry certifications for careers ranging from nursing to culinary arts.
“My job is to help them understand if this is something they want to do or not,” said instructor Steve Cooper. “I want to help them get where they want to go. That also involves putting together resumes and preparing for job interviews, because we get a lot of feedback about that from employers.”