CLEARWATER — Some Clearwater High School students may learn to fly airplanes and space shuttles before they can even drive cars after a new aerospace academy opens next school year.
The Clearwater Aeronautical Space Academy will allow high school students to earn 30 college credits from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and certifications and complete the Private Pilot Ground School — the first step toward attaining a private or commercial pilot’s license that typically costs thousands of dollars in lessons and materials. The college courses can save students about $20,000 in tuition costs, according to Clearwater High.
In January, students may get a preview of the academy by taking a dual-enrollment course on unmanned aircraft. Then, in the 2014-15 school year, students may choose an aerospace engineering track for those who want to work on aircraft or an aerospace technology track for those who want to fly in the sky or in space.
“This is an incredibly exciting opportunity for our kids, and something we’ve wanted to offer for years,” Clearwater High Principal Keith Mastorides said.
Students will train on flight simulators, work with drones and receive instruction at the high school from staff at Embry-Riddle’s two Tampa satellite campuses. Embry-Riddle’s main campus is in Daytona Beach. Because the academy offers dual enrollment courses with Embry-Riddle, the cost to Clearwater High and the school district will be “minimal,” Mastorides said. Eventually, the school district would like to expand the aerospace program to eighth graders at Oak Grove and Clearwater Fundamental middle schools, feeder schools for Clearwater High.
There is no limit to the number of students that can enroll. The courses are open to all grade levels, including students enrolled in the school’s Cambridge program or Career Academy of International Culture and Commerce. Preliminary interest in the program has “skyrocketed,” Mastorides said.
There are about 2,000 aviation and aerospace companies operating in Florida, employing up to 84,000 people, according to Embry-Riddle. The university also is seeking state funding to start more career academies to meet growing interest in the program.
The Pinellas County school district has wanted to partner with Embry-Riddle for several years, but couldn’t find a school where a certified pilot already was working, Mastorides said. Meanwhile, Clearwater High had been looking for a way for a JROTC instructor who was a certified pilot in the Marines to instruct aviation and aerospace courses. The courses will be rigorous, with only three containing material on the high school level and the others at college or dual-enrollment level, Mastorides said.
Yet when students are engaged in career education, rigorous coursework is hardly a concern, Mastorides said. Last year, the high school became a “wall-to-wall” academy program, where incoming ninth, 10th and 11th graders were required to choose courses that would help them earn industry certifications in fields such as business, fine arts and information technology.
“By next year, all 1,900 students will be in an academy where they have an identifiable goal to work toward with a clear outcome,” Mastorides said. “We’re always looking for ways to make them more employable, and they just love it because of all the opportunities they get.”
This is the first time any aeronautical training has been offered to Pinellas County students. Embry-Riddle also will launch another academy at Sunlake High School in Pasco County in January and offers similar programs in Charlotte, Palm Beach and Okaloosa counties.