“What else is in aviation?” Revone Bauwens asked her class of freshman aviation students at Desert Mirage High School Thursday morning, sprinting across the room to grab a battered helmet and two glowing orange wands.
“Not just pilots, although pilots think they’re everything,” Bauwens joked. “There are mechanics and air traffic controllers and flight planners.”
Bauwens, dressed in a blue Navy flight suit, exudes excitement on the first day of school. She is the instructor for the new aviation academy at Desert Mirage High School.
Her students, about 130 of them, will be the first class to make their way through the program. By the time they’re seniors, Bauwens wants them to be ready to get their private pilot licenses, mechanic licenses and various certificates related to the field. She hopes that the academy will eventually grow into a feeder program for prestigious aviation schools like Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
“I want these kids to be in a position to make a choice,” she said.
Bauwens served as a pilot for 39 years, 22 years in the military and 17 years commercially. She also taught elementary school for three years and is especially passionate about getting girls and minorities into science, technology, engineering and math or STEM fields.
“Some of these girls may go through four years of aviation academy and say ‘I choose to be a mother,’” Bauwens said. “And that’s absolutely valid, but they have to have a choice.”
And giving students choices is why Coachella Valley Unified School District decided to open the aviation academy this year.
The district has partnered with Landmark Aviation and the Jacqueline Cochran Regional Airport in Thermal to expose students to the careers that are available to them in the valley, said Marie Perotti, career technical education coordinator for CVUSD.
“In reality college is great and there are many careers that require a bachelor’s degree. But in our society, most jobs don’t,” Perotti said. “We realized that we have a skills gap in society. Students graduate college but aren’t ready for work.”
In the first year of the program, students will be introduced to the history of aviation and the careers that are available. Bauwens will also drill them in math, to ensure that students have a strong STEM foundation.
“Aviation is the hook. If they don’t go into aviation, I don’t care but they’ll have good math,” she said.
Desert Sands Unified School District will also open an aviation academy this year at Shadow Hills High School, with about 30 students in the program.
Marcus Wood, principal of Shadow Hills, said the program will help guide students who might develop a passion for aviation into careers in aviation.
The push to open aviation academies at two local high schools was driven in part by the need to have skilled workers at the Jacqueline Cochran Regional Airport, officials said.
Peni Nelson, general manager at Landmark Aviation in Thermal, said just a few years ago there were no local workers to fill employment vacancies.
“We want to open their eyes to what is available,” Nelson said. “To this day, a lot of people don’t understand what we do. We need to go to the young people and tell them ‘We’re here, and there are lots of jobs.’”
When people think of aviation they tend to only think of pilots, but that’s a misconception, Nelson said. Aviation includes: dispatchers, aircraft maintenance, customer service, flight planners, computer technicians, engineers etc., she said.
“What a wonderful thing for young people to get involved in aviation,” Nelson added. “Airplanes are romantic. Airplanes are exciting, and you need to share that.”
Ninth grader Ximena Ramirez said she wants to be a soccer player, but she’s excited to be in the aviation academy. She wants to travel and learn how a plane works, she said.
“The pilot gets to fly the plane, and you get to go places and you get to see how nice the view is,” Ramirez said.