More than 150 educators, administrators, pilots, and aviation industry leaders came together to share ideas in Lakeland, Florida, Nov. 9 during AOPA’s inaugural High School Aviation Symposium.
The meeting was the kick off of AOPA’s plan to support STEM education programs (science, technology, engineering, and math) around the country. Leaders and teachers from programs as diverse as aviation-centric high schools to small, local after-school clubs came together to network, learn about why aviation STEM education is important, and how they could start or improve their own programs.
“I got my start in a ground school class in high school,” AOPA President Mark Baker said in his opening remarks. He stressed that supporting students in high school will result in long-term industry growth, and that AOPA is committed to the cause.
Attendees toured the Central Florida Aerospace Academy, the host school of the event. The public high school career academy is associated with Lakeland’s Kathleen High School. Students come from all over the area to learn about avionics, maintenance, aviation, and engineering. More than 40 students have earned a private pilot certificate through the school.
To give high school education leaders an opportunity to learn from each other, AOPA formed the National High School Aviation Leadership Alliance, whose charter members will be aviation high school principals, CEOs, superintendents, program leaders, and guidance counselors. A meeting of the alliance will be held each year at a different aviation high school to give the leaders a chance to share best practices and learn first-hand from one another about the variety of aviation education programs, curricula, and formats. Patrick Cwayna, CEO of the West Michigan Aviation Academy in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has been tapped by AOPA to head up the leadership alliance as one part of the association’s three-part plan to strengthen high school aviation education nationwide.
The other two prongs of AOPA’s plan to support STEM education are a nationwide group of high school aviation career clubs, and a support structure that will help fund various STEM programs and their students with grants and other backing.