A Florida high school’s solution: a four-year maintenance program for students
With the aviation industry in the grip of a shortage of both pilots and maintenance technicians, officials at Seminole County Public Schools (SCPS) in Sanford, Florida, are preparing students for these in-demand jobs.
The Aviation Maintenance Academy offers SCPS students a chance to learn about aviation before leaving high school. While the academy focuses on fixed-wing aviation, it could serve as a model for the helicopter industry. ROTOR spoke to Jason Wysong, executive director of Education Pathways and Strategic Partnerships for SCPS, for insight on the program.
Why start the academy?
Wysong: The Orlando-Sanford International Airport (KSFB) is an important pillar of the Seminole County economy. In June 2017, meetings with leaders from the airport authority and its anchor business partners clearly established a local need to improve the talent pipeline into the aviation industry.
As a gauge of student and community interest in aviation, the stakeholders partnered to host Aviation Day at the airport on December 9, 2017. The goal for this event was to expose students and parents to different career pathways available within the aviation industry. The event was open to SCPS students and families in grades 4–12, and estimated attendance was more than 2,500. Due to overwhelmingly positive feedback, the steering committee is planning for future annual events.
After nearly three years of research, construction, and procurement, the Aviation Maintenance Academy at Seminole High School began in August 2018 as one of four programs in the school’s new Career Education Building. The high school is located just 4 miles from the airport, so departing and arriving aircraft are regularly visible in the skies above the campus.
How does the program work?
The Aviation Maintenance Academy is open to all students at Seminole High School. There are no prerequisite requirements, and there is no financial cost to participate. A licensed A&P mechanic has been hired to lead and teach in the academy.
Students take one course per year for up to four years of focused study on airframe and powerplant systems. While students graduating from the academy will have earned no credit toward obtaining an A&P license, the hands-on experience will help them decide if aviation maintenance is a good career for them and will prepare them for success at an A&P program.
Currently, we are following the Florida Department of Education secondary frameworks, which outline the standards the curriculum must cover. As we continue to develop the program, we will consider becoming an FAA-certified program, depending on what is best for students.
Students can also participate in two aviation dual-enrollment courses offered by Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. A Program Advisory Committee comprised of local aviation employers, airport officials, and other industry experts will identify additional sources of support for long-term program planning and resource sustainability. The committee will also collaborate to connect students with local employers for internship, apprenticeship, and employment opportunities.
What makes your program unique?
Students who attend any of the school district’s nine high schools can take aviation maintenance at Seminole High School in an after-school format for four hours each week. This allows all high school students in the district to participate.
What is your biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge thus far has been recruiting the initial cohort of students. Now that the program is open and equipment is in place, we believe that many students will sign up in future years. Moving forward, identifying financial resources for acquisition of new equipment will be a priority.
What has been your greatest success?
We are excited that the program opened on time, on budget, and with 76 students enrolled!
What advice would you give to others looking to start a similar program?
Allocate plenty of time to meet with local business partners to determine their needs and interest in supporting the program. We have learned that our local aviation community is committed to educating students and taking a long-term approach to developing their future workforce.