By Kathryn B. Creedy
The National Aviation Hall of Fame and PBS partnered to deliver a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to an aviation/aerospace industry struggling with workforce shortages and creating pipelines for future workforce needs.
Aviation organizations from airlines to manufacturers, MROs, and the aviation/aerospace alphabet-soup groups in Washington need to grab on to this golden opportunity to sponsor, promote, fund and otherwise support this effort because it brings PBS – the most trusted name in education – into aviation education.
But aviation/aerospace companies are not the only ones that can leverage this opportunity. Anyone working in aviation education can help scale this to a national effort and at the same time, introduce yourself as the resident aviation education expert at your local PBS station. That’s what I intend to do here in Central Florida.
While elementary school programming exists, nothing has the potential of the NAHF-PBS/ThinkTV initiative delivered through their PBS-created, in-classroom curriculum; the NAHF and PBS websites; social media; PBS Kids programming; and PBS Learning Media. The program, called Learning with Will and Orv, is designed to support teachers and inspire students both in and outside the classroom and emphasizes development of aviation education at remote, rural and otherwise under-represented or under-resourced schools.
The NAHF-PBS/ThinkTV initiative results from the pivot NAHF President and CEO Amy Spowart took at the beginning of the pandemic. “In 2019 I met with former NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe and he shared his belief that the gap in STEAM education was in the younger, elementary grades,” Spowart told Future Aviation/Aerospace Workforce News (FA/AW News). The effort was further supported through two webinars moderated by Spowart and National Aeronautic Association (NAA) President Greg Principato. During the two-part event Inspiring the Workforce of Tomorrow, Panelist John Langford, founder and CEO of Electra.aero, encouraged Spowart’s plan further when he observed it is assumed kids will get to aviation/aerospace through STEAM education. But Dr. Langford thinks it should be the other way around, that aviation/aerospace is a perfect way to get young thinkers into STEAM concepts. Spowart realized to build the aviation workforce of tomorrow, we need to make aviation the primary focus.
Their approach is refreshing since every industry is pushing themselves as STEM/STEAM delivery systems. But aviation/aerospace has already stepped up to ensure kids of all ages are exposed to aviation and aerospace. With PBS we have a way to amplify them.
“The pandemic shut-down truly made it all happen for us,” Spowart explained to FA/AW News. “We used the lull to create an education plan called Discovering Flight: Learning with the National Aviation Hall of Fame. For the curriculum, called Learning with Will and Orv, we joined forces with PBS/ThinkTV. We wanted a multidisciplinary approach. Our friends at PBS/ThinkTV even came up with the idea to include some of the etiquette from a book the Wright’s wrote. Our goal is to make the curriculum free to under-resourced schools and the program so flexible that teachers can do it for a week, month or spread out longer. PBS/ThinkTV have, unsurprisingly, included everything from step-by-step guides to providing activity instruction and worksheets.”
Previous Coverage: Industry Education Resources Reaching Millions
Spowart, who recenty posted a video about the new program, explained it was PBS’s idea to make Will and Orv heroes of the curriculum and build them to become as iconic as Curious George or Arthur in an effort to teach kids about aviation and STEAM principals. To do that, PBS/ThinkTV is creating 53 one-minute vignettes which will make up a one-hour video to be shown on PBS affiliates and available on PBS, the NAHF website and in its Heritage Hall and Education Center.
“We are eager to find partners to share the digital media on their websites, in airports and other museums,” Spowart said, adding through PBS/ThinkTV, teachers will have a dedicated 1-800 number to answer any concept questions they may have.
“To share this outside of Dayton, we hope to have the support of industry and beyond,” she said. “We are looking for partners to help fund this initiative to begin the aviation and aerospace pipeline in elementary grades. We seek to ignite that spark and keep it going throughout their education because we know we may lose them in middle and high school. Just because you introduce aviation to kids once, doesn’t mean it will stick. Our goal is to create on-going relationships and touch points throughout their education. In elementary school kids absorb new information like a sponge, aren’t afraid to fail, and we want to dig into that fearlessness. Aviation is about being fearless. That’s why our partnership with PBS/ThinkTV is so impactful. It works because PBS knows how to meet kids where they are.”
Spowart also explained other ways aviation companies and organizations can help. This is actually where everyone interested to aviation/aerospace education fits in by contacting local PBS affiliates to urge adoption of the Learning with Will and Orv effort. Teachers in the new program can talk about about opportunities for kids to continue their aviation education in middle and high school, such as through the AOPA High School Curriculum as as well as high-value, high-paying aviation/aerospace careers. This would ultimately create a relay-like education ecosystem the industry so sorely needs.
“Scaling this will be the challenge, and this is how the rest of the industry can help,” she said. “We want our Learning with Will and Orv partners to connect with us and help our reach to the most vulnerable schools and beyond in markets that matter most to them. We will work with their local PBS affiliates to support the media content. Once we move it through PBS, kids can watch the content at home, or the library while teachers have it in the classroom.” Or in the dozens of home-grown aviation education programs throughout the nation.”
Help can also come via in-kind opportunities and Spowart shared the initiative includes curriculum binders containing support materials like balsa airplanes, an opportunity for co-branding and exposure in the schools. Entities with experienced aviation employees could help with the quarterly on-going professional development programs for educators. There is also a plan to make field trips to airports, maintenance facilities and air traffic control towers part of Learning with Will and Orv to illustrate that aviation is about much more than being a pilot since the FAA recognizes 53 different jobs related to aviation career fields.”
Teaming with Education Departments and Career & Tech Ed
Spowart plans to meet with the Ohio Department of Education to build a relationship and to learn how Learning with Will and Orv can meet its needs as well as ensure teachers are supported. Reaching out to government officials as well as those developing Career & Technical Education (CT&E) programs is extremely important as the demand for such programming increases. Parents see it is a way to get a college education without incurring the crushing debt it now entails. The idea is to get their kids into certification programs such as aircraft and powerplant or manufacturing programs that lead to jobs while leveraging corporate higher education benefits to gain that college degree.
The importance of technical education is illustrated in a recent article highlighting the Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics. Employment rates for its graduates exceed 80% compared to just 50% for graduates of more traditional colleges. A recent survey by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce showed PIA had a better 40-year return on investment than the median average ROI for all US postsecondary schools.
Learning with Will and Orv
The NAHF-PBS/ThinkTV Phase One Grades 1-3 programming – available for the 2021/22 school year – will be beta tested in one of the key birthplaces of American aviation – Dayton, OH – where Wilbur and Orville Wright, with their mechanic Charles Taylor, toiled away to invent the airplane and where Katherine Wright ensured her brothers’ success and legacy. Indeed, Learning with Will and Orv – leverages America’s two earliest aviator/inventors as a springboard, with Hall of Fame inductees, to learn about American innovation in aviation and aerospace.
Rollout has been slowed by the rise of Covid’s Delta variant but formal launch and live websites will be coming soon.
NAHF-PBS/ThinkTV are already developing plans to expand the program with PBS in 2022 to include curriculum for grades 4-6. The next phase will include a focus on sustainability in aviation and aerospace.
“The National Aviation Hall of Fame is known for honoring its Enshrinees who contributed so much to aviation,” Spowart told FA/AW News. “But that is only part of our mission. We want to really dig into the other part of our mission which is to inspire. We will take inspiration from our greatest aviation pioneers and incorporate them into our educational programming.”
Learning with Will and Orv is a multidisciplinary curriculum of standards-aligned videos, interactives, lesson plans that partners NAHF’s mission with the educational expertise of PBS/ThinkTV. A kids workbook has already been created. The Wrights are informal guides to lessons within the curriculum as they interact with other famous aviation and space leaders from history to deliver fun, educational experiences for the classroom. It hopes to inspire kids to pursue future achievements in air and space frontiers.
NAHF includes the arts in the program because aviation STEAM-based early education encourages kids to explore aviation no matter their interest. After all, aviation/aerospace related jobs now encompass the arts, community planning and even wrangling animals transported by air from Pandas to thoroughbreds. Ensuring lessons take in the entire STEAM concept, activities include language arts, mathematics, social studies, journal writing, short story assignments and even comic book development.
NAHF-PBS/ThinkTV teamed with Crayons to Classrooms, a free store for teachers from under-funded Pre K-12 schools that serve students living in poverty and underserved classrooms, to develop and distribute 100 binders of the curriculum which will include the workbook. Complementing this will be creations from Digital Studios and Interactions for PBS Learning Media and a Discovering Flight PBS KIDS engagement page. There will also be an NAHF-PBS/ThinkTV social media campaign, spotlighting Hall of Fame enshrinees with online curricular assets and an interactive website to host content and engage young learners.
Junior Collier Challenge Joins American Rocketry Challenge to Inspire Kids
The success of such programs as the American Rocketry Challenge and the General Aviation Manufacturer’s Association’s Aviation Design Challenge in capturing kids passions and enabling them to pursue aviation careers has paved the way for a new challenge developed through the NAHF/PBS initiative.
From FA/AW News Archives: How Even Poor Schools Can Tap Aviation/Aerospace Education Resources
With the National Aeronautics Association (NAA), the home of one of aviation’s most coveted awards – The Collier Trophy – and the National Air & Space Museum (NASM), the program launched the Junior Collier Award. The Junior Collier Challenge invites students to develop a concept/idea inspired by a Collier-winning technology, challenging not only students but education and community organizations whose focus is on traditionally underserved and under-resourced communities.
Instead of emphasizing fabrication and build out, the challenge will focus on the original thought and design behind the technology to inspire students. Each year a NASM leader, NAA Awardee or NAHF Enshrinee will promote the Junior Collier Challenge which will begin as a regional effort, with the eventual goal of expanding annually to a national audience, in conjunction with the Collier Trophy winner. A Junior Collier trophy will be presented to each winner and the official Junior Collier Trophy, with the names of the winners permanently attached, will be displayed along with the actual Collier Trophy in the NASM. This is a perfect opportunity for companies to work with local schools – which many are already doing – to develop teams.
Other Elementary School Programs
Certainly, NAHF is not the first to target young children, but the power of the NAHF-PBS/ThinkTV effort can only strengthen other programs already in existence by giving them much needed national platform to make local school boards and schools more receptive to such programming. FA/AW News has heard far too many stories of local efforts to include aviation/aerospace in schools only to be shut out by unreceptive school boards. That is why working with state aviation and career & tech ed officials will likely yield better results.
The number of organizations targeting youngsters are legion and in every corner of America, as illustrated by the Future Aviation/Aerospace Workforce News Resources for Education and Workforce Development Programs for Aviation/Aerospace but it is doubtful they know about each other, how they can amplify their efforts or how to access corporate workforce development programs for support.
For instance, we have seen the national effort surrounding the 100th anniversary of Bessie Coleman pilot’s license launched in June by Aerostar Avion Institute to support its pipeline K-12 curriculum.
These programs, such as Space Kids Global, target younger kids and works with the Girl Scouts to inspire and empower girls to go into science, technology, engineering, art, and math (STEAM) education and jobs. It recently worked on a challenge designing a new Girl Scout Space patch and developing an experiment that launched on the recent SpaceX mission.
Flight Schools Association of North America (FSANA) sponsors AeroCamp for which it developed a tool kit for members to help in planning and budgeting. Launched in 2009, FSANA Chair Lisa Campbell estimates more than 5,000 young aviators have attended one of the many AeroCamps around the country where campers are exposed to every facet of aviation and gain a strong foundation for piloting but also learn about everything from air traffic control, airport operations, maintenance, avionics, firefighting to weather reporting and engineering. While most are held at flight schools, Campbell recently met with a community college and aviation companies interested in forming camps.
The FAA has long had curriculum and activities for kids. All this dovetails nicely with the AOPA Foundation High School Aviation Curriculum, which just passed the 300-school mark having reached 8,000 students spanning 44 states, the next step in the lifelong relay to aviation/aerospace careers from Learning with Will and Orv to AOPA High School curriculum to Civil Air Patrol and beyond. AOPA, too, offers teacher professional develop as well as helps them learn to fly. There are also online programs for youngsters such as Experimental Aircraft Association AeroEducate. The industry needs them all but the earlier we attract kids to aviation and the more we mentor them through that education, the more successful we will be.
Those already providing programming need to think bigger and the NAHF-PBS/ThinkTV provides a golden opportunity to leverage this national platform to gain local support for their programs by piggy-backing off the PBS imprimatur to illustrate the importance of aviation/aerospace education in their local communities and to opportunities to be had in aviation careers.
Indeed, local PBS stations already have funding to create programming featuring their local communities and this could be a prime opportunity to create links to publicize all the wonderful Pre-K-to-College programs already in existence. The more we promote Learning with Will and Orv and link it to efforts providing local hands-on programming for kids, the more likely we are to build the next generation.
Call to Action
I’ve written before how different aviation constituencies – manufacturers, airlines, maintenance, business aviation – are all developing workforce development programs and creating education pipelines. When asked why they don’t get together to amplify the wonderful programs already existing rather than reinventing the wheel they demur saying they focus on the needs of their members.
Fair enough but the workforce crisis affects us all. Isn’t it time for us to destroy silos in favor of a unified effort to start as young as possible to encourage kids into aviation and aerospace? Isn’t that what we are doing when we call on members to support the National Center for the Advancement of Aviation (NCAA) bills now before Congress? If we get NCAA, will we retain our silos?
The NAHF-PBS/ThinkTV and AOPA Foundation efforts are sterling examples of what aviation can accomplish individually but imagine what could happen if we worked together to amplify all of these programs by providing sponsorships, paying for materials needed to support them, donating to organizations creating education programs and yes, planting your logo in the hearts and minds of the next generation. The industry is already doing it so why can’t we do it together? This isn’t about competition, it’s about collaboration and amplification of all these programs.
Check out all the programs already in existence. Resources include contacts for career & technical education, state aviation education officials and corporate workforce education programs designed to attract the next generation. Even small companies can contribute to opportunities in your local area and, right now, there is probably a program already available to support.
Certainly, the NAHF-PBS/ThinkTV initiative will plow new ground and amplify our efforts and, as Spowart said, is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity not to be missed.