Beginning this fall, the sky really will be the limit for Key West High School students.
An aeronautics course, which eventually may feature some sort of flight simulator, is being planned for the fall semester.
"We're all really excited about this development," said KWHS instructor Ed Smith, who has already signed up to teach the course, with his wife Joy. "It shows that the school has its finger on the pulse of what the kids are interested in, and it's another step in the direction of STEM education, which is important on both a local, and a national level."
STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.
The elective course will be taught in the space formerly occupied by the Adult Education program. It's an outgrowth of the popular KWHS Aviation Club, which was founded in November, and now counts between 30 to 60 people at each of its meetings - and three actual pilots - in its ranks.
Over March break, Ed Smith, and a number of Aviation Club members, attended a flight simulator training course at the Pensacola Naval Air Station, where Smith hit upon the idea of launching a high school course. He quickly brought up the idea with the school's administration.
"There's a drive on to really get into STEM on both a local and national level," Smith said. "There are a huge number of engineers out there right now, in their sixties and seventies, who will be retiring soon, and leaving a massive void in upper level engineering, design, and mathematics jobs.
The three major companies, Boeing, Lockheed-Martin, and Northrop-Grumman see this void coming, and have been warning that we're going to be left behind, if we don't get serious about pushing a STEM-heavy curriculum."
During the hunt for a proper curriculum for the course, Smith and district Supervisor of Secondary Education Camilla Burton, have looked into a number of options, each of which has individual strengths.
The ACE (Aviation Classroom Experience) program, which Smith and his students experienced first-hand in March, includes a simulator, but takes four months to install, and could turn out to be prohibitively expensive. Smith has already had some artists renderings of how the classroom could be divided into separate briefing/control tower, and flight simulator areas.
On the plus side ACE is extremely STEM friendly, being literally an entire common core curriculum built around aviation.
"You're actually learning math while doing entertaining things," Smith said. "When we were in Pensacola, my kids were demanding to be taught this incredibly upper level math, so that they could perform better in the simulator.
The ACE program, however, is also more focused on learning to pilot unmanned drones.
"We're looking to focus on piloting actual aircraft," Smith said.
According to Burton, it's likely planners will choose a course called Aerospace Technology.
"That would allow us to create an entry level course, and target younger students," Burton said. "ACE is the National Flight Academy curriculum, and could be integrated into Aerospace Technology over time, but right now we're focused on creating a sustainable and viable pathway that will be recognized, credit-wise, by the state board of education. The first year will be a kind of start-up year."
School Principal Amber Archer Bosco pronounced herself pleased with the development.
"We've had such a strong interest taken in our Aviation Club, especially since the field trip in March," Bosco said. "And STEM is an increasing area of focus for us, so to be able to offer a course that is of high interest for students, but also includes so many aspects of STEM, is exciting. We're really looking forward to it."