Aviation teachers, industry leaders compare notes

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The appetite for aviation learning and accompanying careers has grown exponentially in the years since the AOPA You Can Fly High School Initiative began, despite a recent commercial air travel slowdown brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

The yearly gathering of science, technology, engineering, and math teaching specialists helps highlight an engaging curriculum for young people that spans ninth through twelfth grade with hands-on projects that make learning fun and interesting.

“It’s feeling really good here,” said AOPA High School Aviation Initiative Director Glenn Ponas moments before the presentation began. More than 950 people attended the virtual event, which included sessions presented by aviation STEM education leaders and professional pilots. Several schools held virtual watch parties with teachers, students, administrators, and parents sharing the experience. The focus was on tools and strategies to help teachers and administrators implement and grow an effective aviation STEM program.

The AOPA curriculum is available free of charge to school systems nationwide and has been deployed in more than 400 classrooms at more than 200 schools in 38 states, shaping the lessons taught to about 8,000 students. One of the hallmarks of the initiative is broadening the demographics of those exposed to aviation to help diversify the pilot population. Between 22 and 23 percent of the high school aviation STEM students are female compared to about 7.5 percent of females working as career pilots in the United States.

Interactive chats began the moment the program went live and continued throughout the presentation hosted by Swayne Martin, a professional pilot with a massive internet following.

Math and aviation teacher James McMullen checked in from Har-Ber High School, in Springdale, Arkansas, as “the first school in Arkansas to adopt and teach the AOPA curriculum to our students in August.” Stefanie Tweedy of Ada Junior High School in Ada, Oklahoma, posted encouragement to others, as did aerospace teacher Anthony McGovern from Quartz Hill, California, and dozens more.

Nancy McGee of the Commemorative Air Force wrote that she was “in the house” and went on to pledge “100 percent support for the AOPA High School STEM curriculum.” She shouted out a “thanks” to AOPA You Can Fly Executive Director Elizabeth Tennyson and AOPA President Mark Baker “for making this happen for kids!”

Baker welcomed hundreds of online participants and said he is remaining focused on preparing young people for aviation careers despite temporary setbacks that might not always allow

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