As many as 10 graduating seniors from Ada High School could walk off the commencement stage this spring with a diploma in their hand and a pilot’s license in their pocket.
That’s an accomplishment the Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission is hoping to duplicate at high schools across the state through a new effort to prepare the next generation of workers in the state’s $44 billion aerospace industry.
About a thousand students from 16 Oklahoma high schools and career technology centers are enrolled in a four-year curriculum called “You Can Fly,” which was established in 2017 by the Aircraft Owners Pilots Association. Nationwide, there are 216 schools using the curriculum, and the number is growing, said Paula Kedy, aerospace and aviation education program coordinator at the Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission.
Ada was the first Oklahoma school district to adopt the curriculum and the number has quickly grown over the past four years, Kedy said.
Today, Oklahoma ranks third in the country for the number of schools teaching the program, and Kedy is hoping to double the number by next fall, which would place the state at the top of the list, beating out Kentucky and Texas.
The program is not just about flying, however. It offers a comprehensive overview of aviation, ranging from history, aircraft, airports, and meteorology in addition to ground school.
“You Can Fly” is a STEM curriculum that is the first of its kind, according to the Pilots Association. The curriculum is aligned with common core state standards and next-generation science standards, the Maryland-based organization says.
There are two pathways that schools can offer: a pilot pathway or a pathway focused on unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones. Not all students in the program are interested in being pilots. What they learn could prepare them for careers in aircraft maintenance, manufacturing, airport operations or any other career field in the aviation industry.
Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission Director Grayson Ardies said Oklahoma has a strong aerospace industry with roots established a century ago by pioneers such as Wiley Post, Clyde Cessna and others.
He said aerospace is Oklahoma’s second-largest sector, behind oil and natural gas, and it employs more than 200,000 people directly and indirectly by hundreds of companies large and small. There is high demand for a trained workforce and the industry does not have a prominent trade organization in Oklahoma, so it struggles to make high school students aware of opportunities available in aviation.
“This program is good for the state because it is helping to prepare the next generation of workers for Oklahoma’s aerospace industry,” Ardies said.