POSTED ON JULY 6, 2011:
Sky's the Limit
Aviation is big business in Oklahoma, and a Tulsa magnet school is helping students fly high
McLain High School, a magnet of Tulsa Public School district, is prepared to teach their students how to compete in today's job market.
Students enter their freshman year with four curriculum strands to choose from: Spatial Technology and Remote Sensing, Environmental and Atmospheric Sciences, Engineering and Robotics, Certified Nurses Assistant Preparation, and Aeronautics and Aviation Maintenance Technology. After the first year of high school, students' studies narrow into one specific field.
All of these magnets will be beneficial to McLain's graduates, however McLain is the only high school in Tulsa with an aviation strand and the aviation world is booming.
The Oklahoma Aerospace Alliance reports that aviation is the "largest and most well-paid industry in Oklahoma." According to AeroJobsTulsa, there are more than 100 aerospace/aviation companies' in Tulsa and Gov. Mary Fallin routinely brags that the aerospace industry pays twice as much as other average Oklahoma careers.
McLain students who choose the Aeronautics and Aviation Maintenance Technology strand will learn from more than just books.
This magnet program offers a number of opportunities including a flight simulator room, hands-on work with aircraft engines and high-tech equipment, including an Airtech wind tunnel, a machine that makes propellers and a two-seater airplane.
Students interested in becoming pilots can also attend flight training school.
McLain has the equipment and expertise necessary to teach students aviation skills without leaving the campus, but co-principal Ebony Johnson encourages her students to also go to the Tulsa Technology Center to study in their state-of-the-art facilities. Despite its robust aviation curriculum, McLain doesn't offer the certifications students need to secure full-time positions.
"Although our students will be fully equipped to work in any workplace upon graduation we have not progressed that far yet," Johnson said.
The school's faculty steers students into college programs after high school graduation, Johnson said.
Beyond the extra training and education available at the magnet school, McLain is still a typical high school in many respects. Students take general education courses on top of their specialized coursework, which they receive elective credits for. Students still have the opportunity to play high school football or any other sport and live the life of a normal teenager. To attend McLain you have to be enrolled in a magnet, you cannot decide to opt out Johnson explained.
McLain's instructors must have extra training and experience to guide students through the specialized curriculum.
"Our teachers are required to have a bachelor's degree as well as some sort of certification dealing with aviation," Johnson said.
Instructors include military pilots and certified aviation technicians. Johnson said students work both behind the cockpit and under the wings.
McLain received a grant three years ago for each of the school's four curriculum strands. Each year, Johnson and her staff discuss what is needed in each strand and divide the money accordingly.
The grant will end after the 2011/2012 school year, and Johnson said the faculty is making plans to ensure there is no effect on the students or the facilities.
"The district is looking to re-write for some additional funds to sustain the program financially," she said. "We are charged and excited about getting our own resources with a lot of fundraisers and connecting with the community."
Johnson said McLain's faculty knows that funding is a key part of the school's unique training, but said school officials see community involvement as a major factor in the full education of their students.
Field trips and job-shadowing events designed to put students alongside real-world aviation professionals are the single biggest factors in motivating budding careers, she said.
"These types of opportunities supersede getting a large sum of money to buy a large piece of equipment," Johnson said. "The thing that matters the most is the connections students are making with professionals who work in the aviation and aeronautics industry."
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