By Kathryn B. Creedy
Don’t ever tell Shella Condino it is impossible to bring aviation/aerospace education to even the poorest schools.
Condino is a gutsy Filipino immigrant who opted for Presidio High School in Texas to launch her teaching career rather than an international academy.
“Presidio was where I was needed,” she said. “It wasn’t performing well academically and had a lot of kids without much to do after school.”
Condino guided students at Presidio High School, in one of Texas’s poorest school districts, all the way to a national rocket competition. The Presidio team’s work culminated in an invitation to the White House Science Fair where they met President Barak Obama.
“This was amazing for a school with a 14% graduation rate when I arrived,” she said. “We had 100% graduation rate by the time I left and many of our participants turned to professional degrees. Today, one of the girls is a mechanical engineer and another a chemist. They honed their skills for communication, organization, collaboration and team building, all important skills in today’s workforce.”
Now that is a transformational experience and shows if teachers can engage them, kids have vastly more opportunities. The key, she said, is support from administrators, regardless of whether it is a disadvantaged school or the affluent school district in Northern Virginia where she is now an AP Physics teacher.
Of course, the Presidio team had to raise funding, the majority of which was raffling and auctioning goats, selling donuts and BBQ sales. Indeed, a big obstacle is the cost of after school programs need but this is, perhaps, an ideal sponsorship opportunity for local businesses.
“All administrators have to do is say yes and a passionate teacher will figure out how to get it done,” said Condino. “We did well on our rocketry projects and received recognition in the national level from the American Rocketry Challenge. No, we didn’t win but who would have guessed our Cinderella story in meeting the president of the United States? We were always in the top 25 out of almost a thousand of teams nationwide and our highest place was 4th in 2014.
“Many teachers share the same curiosity and sense of wonder as students in discovering aviation,” she continued during the National Aeronautics Association/National Aviation Hall of Fame Aerospace Education: Inspiring the Workforce of Tomorrow webinar. “If you are passionate about it, students pick up on that. What they come away with is the faith we have in them. They think, ‘She thinks I can do this, and she really wants me to do it so bad, I should do it.’”
Scott McComb, science chair at Raisbeck High School, agreed saying there are dedicated and passionate aviation/aerospace teachers who just need to be given space for experimentation and to reach out to industry experts.
“I am a testament to what can be done,” said Condino, who was recognized as Teacher of the Year by the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 2011. “My dream was flying to space and teaching in an underserved community. With the passion in me, I realized if I cannot be successful on my own, maybe I can help others to pursue my dream.”
“We have an untapped community passionate about education and steeped in aerospace,” said McComb. “The question is how we connect them. There are professional organizations for everything. All teachers have to do is decide the thing they’re excited about and within 15 minutes you can find 15 different professional organizations to help. For the price of an email you’ll have more volunteers than you know what to do with. It takes time to cultivate relationships but there is plenty of help.”
American Institute of Aeronuatics & Astronautics is just such an orgranization, said Dr. John Langford, founder/CEO of Electra.Aero who also spoke during the webinar. AIAA is dedicated to shaping the future of aerospace by leveraging aeronautic and astronautic professionals, students and STEM educators to drive global innovation. It provides K-12 teacher resources, grants, experiences, mentorship matches as well as aerospace-related STEM curriculum. It also has a Educator Academy.
He pointed to all the free programming available to teachers enabling even the poorest school district to incorporate aviation/aerospace education programs. He noted he was able to become a pilot to improve his teaching in just four emails which revealed the resources and scholarships he needed.
“The free support and resources educators have but don’t know about is the challenge and so is connecting the work students are doing in the classroom to work available beyond the classroom walls,” said McComb, speaking during NAA/NAHF webinar. “What you get is students walking around with a new vision of themselves or a path they want to pursue.”
He’s right because it doesn’t take much for AvGeeks to volunteer to pass on their enthusiasm for and knowledge of aviation. Indeed, many industry employees volunteer while Collins Aerospace and Raytheon Technologies actively encourage their tens of thousands of employees around the world to get involved. (See their programs in the Educators Resources for Aviation/Aerospace Guide)
These students are also the vanguard of change for the aviation/aerospace culture. McComb pointed to a new mandate for Washington schools to incorporate social justice issues into curriculum.
“Our district is outside of Seattle and has a prominent minority population and it was our task to marry aerospace and social justice issues,” he said. “Our district surrounds Sea-Tac Airport. We are helping to reframe our students’ outlook on how they can be agents of change and how they can change their futures.”
Condino, agreed. “We need to trust them,” she said. “They are caring and working for the betterment of the world. They are figuring out what they can do to become a responsible global citizen.”
The scores of resources available to educators are listed in Future Aviation/Aerospace Workforce News Education Resources For Aviation/Aerospace published recently.