Aviation program takes off at Catholic school

By MICHAEL REID Southern Maryland News

Jaylyn Kennedy toggled the controls and checked her instrument panel as she maneuvered her jet toward an airport in the Hawaiian islands. Everything looked fine until the St. Mary’s Ryken junior realized she was way off course.

But there was no real cause for alarm. It was just another learning experience at the high school’s flight academy.

The Catholic school in Leonardtown recently cut the ribbon on its state-of-the-art STEM lab flight program, which consists of three large cockpit-style simulators and 20 computer stations. The interactive classroom space provides students with the opportunity to gain experience in the field of aviation.

President Rick Wood with members of the Patuxent Partnership in the St. Mary's Ryken Flight Academy

“It’s an exciting way for them to apply science, math and even history and a lot of different subject areas in an experiential way,” Rick Wood, St. Mary’s Ryken president, said during a recent tour of the facility. “They’re able to come and learn all the concepts and formulas and really put them into action in how it works in the real world. The exciting part is that they can see how learning in the classroom translates to flight.”

Students use software and flight simulators to learn what it is like to be a pilot and the importance of math and science principles to flight.

“I like the interactive part because a lot of other schools that teach this curriculum don’t have this,” junior Kathleen Cain said as she tried to keep her jet on a level plane. “Our teacher also makes us do a lot of hands-on stuff, and so this helps a lot.”

“The flight academy allows us to take what we learned in our Aerospace class, about how a plane moves and how its instruments function and compare it to an actual simulation of a plane flying,” student Jack DeLucco said in a release from the school. “It allows us to understand the topics better by seeing as opposed to just being told how they function.”

The program was funded by a grant from the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division and an endowment from The Patuxent Partnership.

“To have a flight simulator lab like this that is state of the art, simulation software, brand-new computers and computer system and a refurbished room is amazing,” St. Mary’s Ryken teacher Jonathan Smith said while touring the classroom. “Any teacher would be excited to have such a resource dropped in their hands. I’m super excited.”

Smith added that the program is for much more than students interested in aviation.

“Currently we’re using it to supplement the aerospace curriculum,” Smith said as students virtually flew their airplanes in a variety of settings. “The students are learning how to navigate between airports using instruments on an aircraft using VOR (very high frequency omni-directional range) system and then switching over to an instrument landing system on a runway.”

Betsy Haley, the school’s director of communications and marketing, said the students are “very excited. They love that they’re applying what they’re learning in the classroom in the lab.”

“It’s something different that they’ve never experienced before or may never experience again,” Wood said. “This may be their only chance at learning how to fly and what goes into flying, so it’s totally different than anything else they’ve learned.”

Wood said he first heard about the program when he saw it in use about a decade ago at Escambia High School in Pensacola, Fla.

“I was excited about it,” said Wood, who added the program is a perfect fit for the school’s Project Lead The Way space engineering program.

The program was initially at the Dr. James A. Forrest Career and Technology Center, then the Patuxent Naval Air Museum and then the College of Southern Maryland.

During a recent ribbon cutting ceremony at St. Mary’s Ryken, Wood thanked Bonnie Green, Lyn Whitmer and all those involved in the vision for bringing the program to St. Mary’s County.

“We are blessed to receive the gift of the flight simulators to connect our students to experiential learning through aviation and STEM,” he said. “This will continue to bear fruit for our student body and our community in educating our young people through challenging, story-driven experiences where they can solve real-world problems in a fast-paced, immersive environment.”

And the program may even be changing the mindsets of its students as far as passions and careers are concerned.

“I think it’s really cool because at least for me I was always interested in engineering but not really the aerospace aspect of it. But I feel like this really engages me,” said Cain, who is even having thoughts about getting her pilot’s license. “[It hasn’t] totally changed my mind, but it’s definitely made me a lot more interested.”

For more information about the St. Mary’s Ryken flight academy, email Haley at betsy.haley@smrhs.org or go to www.smrhs.org/FlightAcademy.

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