Inspiring Students to Explore

Inspiring Students to Explore

STORY AND PHOTOS BY MARIA IANNUCCI

Students often begin discovering new interests in their high school years and are bound to begin forming the beginnings of possible career paths. Polk County supports a child’s love for learning about the things he or she enjoys through several career academies in the local education system. Specifically, students with a passion for aviation have the Central Florida Aerospace Academy of Kathleen High School as an educational option. The CFAA can literally help to propel them to the next level.

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Located at Sun ‘n Fun at Lakeland Linder Regional Airport, the CFAA is an extension of Kathleen High School that provides a meaningful and content-rich education to motivate students at all levels. Students are challenged to reach high levels of achievement in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. As the focus on STEM education continues to grow, CFAA is wellpositioned to offer a potential advantage to those seeking careers in the fields in which they specialize.

According to their website, “The vision of the Central Florida Aerospace Academy is to promote the lifelong process of learning by challenging students with a rigorous curriculum and tailored hands-on experiences with special focus on science, technology, engineering, and math. The academy will respond to the needs of industry by placing emphasis on teamwork, individual achievement, skill development, creativity, and innovation, as well as critical thinking. As students are prepared to be productive and responsible members of the workforce, the academy will instill in them an appreciation for professionalism, ethical behavior, and an awareness of global opportunities; while developing self-worth, high expectations, and mutual respect among a diverse population of students and staff.”

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Assistant Principal and Director Keith Smith, accompanied by Senior Director of Technical Education John Small, graciously invited Inside Polk the opportunity to tour the unique facility, and it is indeed an special place of learning. The Academy hosts grades 9-12, offering a full agenda of core and specialty classes. Fourteen educators, a small support staff, and hundreds of volunteers give these students a solid foundation.

“We offer four tracks of study for students to consider,” said Smith, “including Aerospace Technology (with a focus on flight and navigation), Avionics (with a focus in the technology aboard aircraft), Aeronautics (or Engineering Technology with a focus on the fundamentals of aircraft construction), and Airframe & Power Plant Maintenance (with a focus on inspection and repair). Students can not only earn their high school diploma, but also gain certifications that will help them take steps towards excellent colleges and interesting careers.”

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A walk through the hallways ensures that, aesthetically, the campus appears to resemble any high school. Classroom doors remain closed during classes and lockers stand side by side in the quiet hallway – until the bell rings. Freshmen, seniors, and students in between, bustle by with backpacks as they change classes. But once you enter the classrooms, one realizes that this is no ordinary school.

Visiting an Electronics/Avionics class, the mere set-up of the room dictates high-level education. Students are seated in clusters, with most students seated at their own work station complete with computer, technical software and mock equipment to offer real world training. Gary Roy, known to his students as “Mr. Roy,” uses “PC-based instruction to teach academic theory, and then apply the knowledge on test equipment,” said Roy. Tools are used throughout the campus for hands-on learning, including a 3D printer, flight simulators, and real avionic systems set up in labs.

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A fifth “track” is optional for all students: The Air Force JROTC program gives students an introduction to citizenship and teaches leadership skills to help teens meet the responsibilities and challenges they can face in later years. A visit to Col. Miller’s classroom is a perfect example; anyone walking into the room commands a ‘stand at attention’ by the class. “These young recruits learn about the disciplines needed in the real world,” said Miller. “They learn about common courtesy and respect. These are among the top-ranked cadets in the nation.”

In addition to the traditional and avionic classroom education, the students have the opportunity to earn college credits, participate in Sun ‘n Fun Future Eagles Aviation Club & Restoration Club, and earn volunteer hours toward Bright Futures through Sun ‘n Fun Fly-In.

With the enormity of programs available at CFAA, John Small perhaps summarizes the passion his students have for flight: “The building tilts to one side whenever a plane takes off from Lakeland Linder – all the kids run to see it take off.” Now, that’s love.

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