Up, up and away: Ribault’s Aviation Academy takes flight

11/12/2015

Jean Ribault Senior High School’s new Aviation Academy is the product of collaboration, partnerships and incredible commitment from educators, aviators, local community and business leaders. The academy will give students the opportunity to gain practical experience in the field of aviation partnered with related academic pursuits in the classroom to strengthen career and postsecondary pathways. Today, the new academy was officially unveiled with a ceremony including remarks from the Superintendent of Duval County Public Schools (DCPS) Dr. Nikolai Vitti, Mike Butler, Market Manager of JP Morgan Chase, District 4 School Board member, Paula Wright and Lead Instructor and United pilot, CJ Charlton.

The academy’s approach to technical and career education is made possible through the collaboration of DCPS, industry experts, community organizations like the Friends of Northwest Jacksonville Schools and local corporations. JP Morgan Chase has provided a two-year $300,000 grant to support the program’s growth as a part of their commitment to developing and preparing the workforce for the future.

“Our firm is working around the globe trying to identify where gaps exist between skill sets being developed with the future workforce for our world economy and what the demands are for those jobs in the future,” Butler said. He added, “We partner with local organizations—in this case certainly lead with the Duval County Public Schools—and other businesses to identify where those gaps are in our community. What can our firm do to engage and help to close those gaps?”

The field of aviation has been identified locally and globally as an emerging industry. By 2025, over 60% of the global pilot workforce is slated to retire. There is a similar trend in related careers, as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will need to hire approximately 12,000 new air traffic controllers in that same time frame. Students entering these fields would be in place to join the top ten percent of wage earners, as the average salaries are $130,000 and $85,000 respectively. Ribault’s program has an additional focus, which is to fill the gap in minority representation within the aviation industry. Currently, only 4 percent of airline transport pilots are women, 2.7 percent are African American, 2.5 percent are Asian and 5 percent are Hispanic or Latino.

“When I talk to the students in terms of what this [the aviation academy] means for them, they immediately connect it not just to their present situation as a student but to their future goals. They understand that in order to reach whatever their goal is, this is a golden opportunity,” Wright said. Wright has been a key advocate and catalyst in the development and implementation of the new academy.

The Ribault Aviation Academy program will actually begin in middle school and continue through the high school curriculum. This track builds recruitment and retention through the school system and creates practical pathways to postsecondary and career goals.

“Too often we hear from students that they don’t see the connection between what they are learning in the classroom and the real world. I don’t think that there is anything that is more in alignment to addressing that need than students learning academically through regular STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics] classes but also actually having hands on experience with simulators, flight experience and industry professionals as their teachers to bring to life what they are learning in the classroom,” Vitti said.

Students have the opportunity to gain up to 11 industry certifications including a Student Pilot Certificate and Certified Ground Instructor endorsement as well as exposure to 40 hours of actual flight time and at least one paid internship in the aviation industry. Lead Instructor and United pilot CJ Charlton noted that he is part of a group of less than 3,000 African American pilots out of the 85,000 total commercial airline pilots in the United States. He emphasized the importance of access in the development of Ribault’s Aviation Academy and the impact it can have in student lives and the industry.

“In workforce development and in this program, our job is to introduce kids to careers and individuals in the aviation field that will give them the opportunity to change their thought process in terms of who they can be, what they can be and what their future is,” Charlton said.

The academy is also partnered with the University of North Florida, Florida State College at Jacksonville and Jacksonville University for post-secondary matriculation into related programs.

The Ribault Aviation Academy is one of the newest programs unveiled in the DCPS Career and Technical Education department. It joins a number of programs including Sandalwood’s Information Technology Academy, Mandarin’s Center for Medical Studies Academy and First Coast’s International Trade and Logistics Academy. These academies are just a few of the larger initiative to bolster career and postsecondary pathways for Jacksonville students. Ribault’s Aviation Academy is poised to take off and will be guided by an Advisory Committee that will continually assess the needs of the First Coast and build partnerships to ensure the academy’s longevity and development.

In the words of Captain Charlton, “You haven’t seen anything yet in terms of what we are going to do.”

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Guest Blogger, Katie Bauman

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