US State Oklahoma Ranks First in the Nation for High Schools Teaching Aviation Curriculum

16th Jul 2022

While commercial runways were nearly vacant during the early days of the pandemic of 2020-2021, staff from the Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission were knocking on the doors of high school superintendents and school counselors across Oklahoma’s 77 counties, asking if they could visit about an emerging aviation curriculum available to their students.

Oklahoma Aeronautics has advocated for and implemented this curriculum to support Oklahoma’s commitment to solving workforce challenges and to ensure that the state’s second-largest industry, aviation and aerospace,  will continue to be a major economic driver for the state. The four-year “You Can Fly” High School Curriculum developed by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) is being adopted by independent school districts at a record pace throughout the state.

On Tuesday evening during a four-day training conference, teachers and industry leaders met at OU’s National Weather Center to celebrate the growth of aviation and aerospace education in the state, and to discuss ways to partner in the building of programs that will ensure the growth of Oklahoma’s aviation, aerospace and defense industry workforce.

Oklahoma Lt. Governor Matt Pinnell announced that Oklahoma is first in the nation for the number of schools approved to teach the AOPA high school aviation curriculum starting this fall. With AOPA President and CEO Mark Baker and the State Director of Aeronautics Grayson Ardies flanking the stage, AOPA and Oklahoma Aeronautics confirmed that the 57 school districts across the state signed onto the program moved the Sooner State into first place in the United States.

“I want to make Oklahoma a Top Ten state in every category and I am so proud that Oklahoma is ranked first in the nation for high schools teaching the AOPA curriculum,” said Governor Kevin Stitt. “Thanks to innovative leadership and the work of Oklahoma Aeronautics, we are helping young people find a passion for aviation and aerospace. As a pilot, I am excited to see what the future brings for the Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission and the aerospace industry in our state.”

Many of the school districts are geographically located in rural areas and are readying themselves to implement the curriculum next fall.  AOPA’s You Can Fly initiative is all about building the aviation community, getting more people into the skies, and keeping them there. The centerpiece of You Can Fly is the unique and free High School STEM Curriculum, ensuring that all of aviation has a bright future.

“From CareerTech certifications to a dozen collegiate programs, Oklahoma has led the way in aerospace education for decades. The implementation of AOPA Aviation Curriculum in high schools across the state marks the next milestone in growing aerospace talent in Oklahoma. The aerospace industry employs more than 120,000 Oklahomans, and our continued investment in education will lead to more high-paying jobs in our state,” said Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell.

You Can Fly plays a vital role in helping to ensure the health of aviation, as the nation faces a looming shortage of pilots and aviation professionals. The latest Boeing Commercial Outlook calls for the need for more than 600,000 pilots and aviation technicians over the next 20 years.

In the past school year, more than 12,000 students in 1,000 classrooms across the country, in all four grades, took the curriculum and learned about exciting opportunities in aviation.

“I’m most proud that 49% of the students in our High School program come from minority backgrounds, and 21% are female. We need more inclusion in aviation,” said Baker.

The program is beginning to see real dividends as among its first set of graduates, 58% are pursuing aviation-related careers (including 87% attending college, trade, or technical school).

To support the program, in late 2021 the Commission took on the monumental task to apply for a Workforce Development Grant funded by the Federal Aviation Administration to add support for the implementation of the AOPA program. Staff is working with those 57 schools to distribute FAA funds directly toward classroom supplies. One foundational aspect of receiving the FAA grant was to name five Oklahoma high schools as “Aviation High Schools of Excellence”.

The five schools recognized by the legislature during the 2022 legislative session were Ada High School, McAlester High School, Mustang High School, Okmulgee High School, and Pryor High School. They were early adopters of the AOPA program and will serve as mentors for new Oklahoma high schools implementing the AOPA curriculum.

To further advance the program, Sen. Zack Taylor, R-Seminole, and Nicole Miller, R-Edmond, filed Senate Bill 1147 which Gov. Stitt signed into law to direct the State Board of Education to help ensure aviation courses are eligible for non-elective academic credit toward meeting Oklahoma’s graduation requirements.

Ardies said, “Oklahoma has a strong commitment to implement educational programming to address aviation, aerospace and defense workforce needs. Many in the industry have called for aviation-focused, primary-level education curriculum to get students started on an early flight plan for joining the aviation or aerospace career field. Number one in the Nation is great, but we are just starting to spread our wings and take flight.”

Source: Oklahoma Aeronautics Press Release

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