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Highlands County students working on an AirCam.

It all started in 1999 when we developed an Aviation/Aerospace curriculum at Lake Placid High School. The program was new, one of the few in the state or in the country at the high school level.

As the years went on, the program grew and became a part of a larger initiative as a partnership was formed with EAA Chapter 1240, The School Board of Highlands County, Sebring Regional Airport, and Career Source Heartland to promote youth aviation education.

Each partner had an individual agenda, but all had a common goal. The School Board wanted to expand the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) programs, EAA Chapter 1240 wanted to involve more youth and families in aviation activities, Career Source Heartland wanted to help develop workplace skills in our youth, and the Sebring Regional Airport wanted to encourage more of the community to come out and see developing activity at the airport.

The growing partnership was recognized as a “best practice” bringing a community together to promote youth aviation education. It led to resources to build the EAA Chapter 1240 Aviation Development Center (ADC), flight training scholarship support, and the adoption of the Aircraft Owners and Pilot Association High School Aviation Education Curriculum. We have come a long way from those first classes at Lake Placid High School.

The program is now taking another big step forward pending School Board approval. The Ray Foundation of Naples, Florida has provided a matching grant to expand the ADC and bring the School District Aviation / Aerospace classes to the ADC next school year in August. There will be two classes, Aviation / Aerospace I and II. Each class will also have a “Lab- Research Class” opposite their Aviation class. The lab class in the hangar will involve building another AirCam and other hands-on related aviation activities.

Students will be bused from the zoned school to the ADC, take their two classes and return to their schools in time for 3rd period. Students will take either Aero I or II and then halfway through the morning switch to the Lab/Research portion. The high schools are on an “A/B” schedule. The aviation classes will be held on “A” days, Monday and Wednesday mornings. On Friday they meet at their school in a short 45-minute period doing assignments on their Chromebooks.

Why make the effort to move the classes to the airport? The simple answer is the “it is where the action is”. You can teach aviation concepts in a classroom anywhere, but to be able to be involved in building an aircraft, fly in one, and see and hear the operations of an airport adds a dimension like no other. It is immersion. There are other resources at the airport the students will explore. There are aircraft manufacturing, airframe and powerplant repair, propeller manufacturing, general airport operations, and Tecnam, the worlds largest manufacturer of piston powered aircraft, has their North American headquarters here at the airport.

Looking back through the years, many of our students began their Aviation and Aerospace careers with our classes. Many, even though they did not directly go into aviation careers, found the technology and work skill development of the classes extremely helpful as they found their career path. Aviation and Aerospace are targeted industries in our area and there are significant shortages in the labor pool. We are creating “Options and Opportunities” for our youth through Aviation and Aerospace Education.

If you know students who would be interested in enrolling in this program, they should contact their high school guidance counselor and John Rousch at rouschj@highlands.k12.fl.us. There is an application to fill out for the program and there are limited seats in each class. It is open to all high school grade levels.

Don’t forget about our EAA Chapter 1240 pancake breakfast tomorrow at the ADC, 8 to 10:30 AM. We will be available to share the expansion plans of our building and chat about next year’s school program.

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