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Pennsylvania High School Plans Drone Operator Course

Big Spring, Pa., School District plans to launch a drone operator course at its high school next January, with school board members recently approving the purchase of SkyOp curriculum and training resources.

Chula Vista Police Department during a practice and training program involving drones. | (Eduardo Contreras/San Diego Union-Tribune)
(TNS) — Big Spring, Pa., School District plans to launch a drone operator course at its high school next January.

School board members recently approved the purchase of SkyOp curriculum and training resources in support of the course where students could earn a certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration to pilot a drone.

The course will be offered during the second semester of the 2020-21 year to one section of 12 to 15 students in grades 10-12, said Robyn Euker, district director of curriculum and instruction.

Big Spring offers a personalized diploma approach that gives students greater flexibility to customize what courses they take in high school to prepare for a career after graduation.

As part of that approach, Big Spring encourages students to obtain industry certifications while they are in high school, Euker said. She added the new course is also being offered in response to trends that show future job growth in career fields where drones perform a variety of functions.

Big Spring High School students make their course selections in late February-early March. The process for students includes ranking the priority of their course preferences.

Though 95 students have requested the new course, the demands on staff time can support only one section of students in the second semester of 2020-21, Euker said. The high school has two technology education teachers on staff including Tony Casella, who will teach the drone operator course.

“It’s a great opportunity,” Casella said. “Drones are very pertinent to the world we have now. It’s not something that is going to go away but it’s something that is going to grow.”

The $10,000 in start-up costs for the course include $4,000 in professional development to get Casella and the other teacher trained and FAA certified as drone operators, Euker said. Even though Casella is the main teacher, the other teacher needs the training in case Casella calls in absent and needs coverage, she said. The course is not something a substitute teacher can step into.

The rest of the money will be used to purchase course material, a flight simulator kit, drones and free-standing obstacles to train students on flight maneuvers, Euker said. The drones will only be flown indoors either in the technology education classroom or in large open common spaces.

The course will begin with an introduction on how drones function and how drones are being deployed for public safety and commercial use. The students at this stage will also learn to fly a drone effectively without GPS. Later, students will learn how to program drones for autonomous missions along with all the safety and operational requirements necessary to complete the FAA Unmanned Aircraft test to become a licensed drone pilot.

In addition to the high school course, Big Spring plans to offer next year an exploratory unit on drones to middle school electives in agriculture and Science, Technology, Education and Math. The goal is to provide students in grades 7-8 an opportunity to learn about drones and maybe take the course in high school.

©2020 The Sentinel (Carlisle, Pa.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.