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Magruder High offers students a chance to soar –

by Terri Hogan

Senior Staff Writer

Maya Smith of Rockville has always been fascinated with flight.

Thanks to the Aviation and Aerospace Program at Col. Zadok Magruder High School, she and students like her have a chance to reach for the stars.

“I chose this program because I thought it would align well with the content that I learned and enjoyed from my introduction to engineering class in eighth grade,” Smith, a sophomore, said. “I want to be an aerospace engineer as my profession and earn my private pilot’s license so that I can fly as a hobby.”

And now, students from other county public school can apply for admission to the program on a limited basis, offering the same opportunity to those who do not attend Magruder.

Magruder Assistant Principal Ellen Hudson said that in the fall of 2017 Principal Leroy Evans contacted the academic officer about bringing an aviation program to Magruder, since the Montgomery County Public Schools superintendent was looking to boost career/technical programs.

“I believe we were selected due to our proximity to Montgomery Airpark and Davis Airport,” she said. “We were very excited when it was approved by the state.”

Another contributing factor may have been that Magruder featured one of the original Project Lead the Way programs in the county, offering an engineering program with an aerospace component.

The full-time Aviation Program, in its second year, begins in the ninth grade for students interested in flight and aircraft systems. Students have two pathways from which to choose, both of which align to rigorous math and science standards.

The Pilot pathway introduces students to safety, aerodynamics, aircraft systems, instrumentation, flight physiology and flight planning, and students can work toward earning a private pilot’s license.

The Unmanned Aircraft Systems pathway exposes students to drones as they are used in operations such as security, search and rescue, disaster management, drone design and maintenance programming, and systems automation.  Students can earn a remote pilot certificate.

The courses will prepare students for post-secondary education, Federal Aviation Administration certification exams and careers in the aviation and aerospace industry.

The curriculum is developed by the Aircraft Owners and Pilot Association (AOPA), specifically for high schools.

Nationwide, 161 Schools in 34 states are using AOPA’s High School Aviation STEM Curriculum. The other schools in Maryland that offer the program are DuVal High School in Lanham, Hereford High School in Parkton, Kenwood High School in Baltimore, St. John’s Catholic Prep in Buckeystown and Spencerville Adventist Academy in Spencerville.

In addition to the curriculum, Magruder provides the students with unique learning experiences outside of the classroom, including guest speakers, panels and field trips.

“This is a key component of the program,” teacher and program administrator Cathy Marzen said. “We really want them to get a feel for the aviation industry to prepare for their careers.”

The outlook for aviation careers is promising, with the airlines experiencing a shortage of pilots and related jobs.

The 2019 Boeing Pilot & Technician Outlook projects that 804,000 new civil aviation pilots, 769,000 new maintenance technicians and 914,000 new cabin crew will be needed to fly and maintain the world fleet over the next 20 years.

“Our students will have a huge leg up in pursuing these careers,” said Michael Smith, resource teacher and Aviation Program coordinator.

Maya Smith (no relation to Michael) says the aviation program has grown her knowledge of aircraft to prepare her for the ground knowledge section of the test to earn a private pilot’s license, helped her build connections for future internships and scholarships, and allowed her to practice flying through advanced flight simulators.

“It keeps my school day exciting and engaging,” she said. “The program far exceeded my expectations. I’ve already learned a multitude of things about the science of flight, aircraft systems, aircraft uses, and many more topics through both note-taking and hands-on activity.”

She said her favorite part of the program is the out-of-school extensions of the classroom.

The students have visited Udvar-Hazy Center, Aberdeen Proving Ground and Montgomery County Airpark.

“These trips help to show future careers in the aviation field, build connections with future mentors and of course are fun,” Maya said. “It’s exciting and motivating to see all the wonderful things happening through aviation in the world around us.”

Victoria Wentt, also a sophomore from Rockville, said she chose the program to pursue a commercial airline pilot career path. She hopes to attend Embry Riddle University and major in both flight and animal science.

“One thing I’ve enjoyed most about the program is the vast amounts of opportunities and achievements that the program provides,” said Victoria, who recently won a $2,000 scholarship during a field trip.

Josh Kalai, a sophomore who lives in Rockville, said he appreciates the many real-world examples of the aviation field through trips and conversations with industry experts, as well as in-school resources.

“I find the technology we get to use fascinating,” he said. “We have in the school flight simulators that are approved by the FAA to gain hours. That, and the technologies of aviation, like glass cockpits in planes when the instruments are on a screen, are really cool to me. The computers and artificial intelligence used to fly drones or help jets are just fascinating.”

Josh says he plans to attend college and hopes to at least earn a master’s degree.

Classroom work often involves hands-on activities such as building hot air balloons or gliders to learn aviation principles.

“They’re not just sitting, they’re actually learning by doing,” Marzen said. ”I think it provides a unique experience.”

The Aviation Program is open to Magruder students and a limited number of students from the Gaithersburg, Rockville and Sherwood clusters, based on a lottery.

Students from other high school clusters may be eligible, depending on space and transportation.

Currently, 44 sophomores and 44 freshman are enrolled in the program.

Seventy-five acceptance letters for next year were recently sent out to applicants, with their enrollment decisions due after The Greater Olney News press time.

Looking ahead, Aviation program instructors said they are working on an internship program for seniors and looking to form additional partnerships and connections to open up more opportunities for their students. They may also look to add a meteorology component to the program.

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