Cleveland High School is getting ready to launch a new aviation program which will teach students the mysteries of flight.
Aviation is one of many career and technical education programs approved by the Tennessee Department of Education, and close to 115 students have already signed up to be part of the new CHS program this fall.
“We are very excited,” said Renny Whittenbarger, supervisor of career and technical education for Cleveland City Schools. “We’ll have a tremendous start with this program and hopefully see all these students through it.
CHS will launch the program with three classes: Aviation I, Aviation II and Aviation III. Whittenbarger said a fourth class will eventually be added as students begin to move through the program.
The first three classes will touch on everything from how a plane works to how one can strive for safe flight practices, emphasizing the scientific and mathematical concepts behind these topics. With a flight simulator being purchased this summer, students can also begin working toward the goal of becoming a pilot.
“We’re investing a lot of money and are [purchasing] a full-motion flight simulator,” Whittenbarger said. “Students can begin earning their FAA private pilots’ licenses at age 16, and a certain percentage of their required hours can be in that simulator.”
He added the school is also consulting with instructors at the Cleveland Regional Jetport to ensure that students are ready to continue their educations there if they so choose.
Cleveland City Schools’ decision to add this program came after school district leaders conducted a survey of seventh and eighth-grade students at Cleveland Middle School. Students were asked to select which potential new academic programs sounded the most interesting, and aviation was near the top of many lists.
Whittenbarger said the district is glad to encourage this interest, because demand for those entering aviation-related careers is high. He noted there are many career options, ranging from pilots to air traffic controllers to aviation engineers.
“With one program and all of these career pathways we could offer, we thought it was a win-win,” said Whittenbarger. “When we started looking at the Southeast regional job market data, we learned there is a huge concern out there — with the Baby Boomers’ retirements — how they’re going to fill all these areas under the FAA.”
Career opportunities related to aviation are not just centered around commercial flight and military operations. In an age when online shopping is immensely popular, there are many opportunities related to shipping. Companies like FedEx, which operates cargo planes out of Memphis, have had to increase staffing because of this, said Whittenbarger.
School officials are working with a “mini advisory group” made up of leaders familiar with the aviation industry to help guide the program. They will also oversee the installation of the new flight simulator this June.
At the same time, new CHS instructor Isaac Conrad is getting ready for the first aviation students in August. Conrad comes to CHS from the U.S. Marine Corps, in which he gained 12 years of experience working in avionics.
Though the program is expected to be “very academically challenging,” Whittenbarger said he is confident it will help steer many students toward new career possibilities.
“It will not only add aviation to our program, but it will add to the understanding of the science and math that’s involved in it,” Whittenbarger said. “To me, it’s a win-win situation.”
This fall, CHS is also launching a U.S. Air Force JROTC program. These are two separate programs, but an ambitious student may choose to enroll in both.