FREDERICK, Md. — High above it all, high school has never looked quite like this. It’s a classroom in the skies, which first begins on the ground for junior Natalie Webb and senior Peter Weiland.
“I wanted to expand my horizons,” Webb said.
For Weiland, it is about reaching new heights.
“I'd always been interested in aviation,” he said.
It is all part of a nationwide program to get high school students on a flight path to a career in aviation.
“The whole purpose of the program is to engage students to learn more about aviation and aerospace and to get them ready to become the next generation of pilots and aerospace professionals,” said Glenn Ponas, with the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, or AOPA.
The AOPA is a national nonprofit that developed an aviation curriculum for high school students.
“These are students who have had no access to aviation,” Ponas said. “We want to grab them while they're young to get them excited about it so that by the time they're getting they're going into college, they have a career pathway set and they're ready to go.
Natalie Webb and Peter Weiland are two of the nearly 200 public school students participating in the program at Magruder High School in Rockville, Maryland, where Michael Smith teaches aviation.
“It's just every day seeing their smiles on their face, learning something new. That they're not just sitting, listening to curriculum every single day,” Smith said. “They're getting hands-on.”
So far, through the AOPA curriculum 300 high schools in 44 states--from Arizona to Michigan to Florida and beyond--are now teaching this aviation curriculum to more than 8,000 students.
It’s more than that, though. In an industry lacking diversity, the curriculum is seeking to make a change: 45% of the students in it are from underrepresented groups and 20% are women.
Natalie Webb said she’s up to the challenge.
“It's nice to be able to, like, show them that women can be here, too,” she said. “Anyone can do it. It's not just for men, and it's a really good experience to be able to learn all this stuff and engage in the field.”
That field encompasses more than just airplanes and includes drone training, which Webb might pursue.
“There's many different areas where drones can be applicable with like firefighting, with the fires, especially with the wildfires that are going on,” Webb said. “There's so many other aspects to the aviation field, which I think is cool because we don't always think about that.”
As for Peter Weiland, he just got his pilot’s license this summer and is already thinking about where it can take him.
“I want to fly for a commercial airline and maybe eventually cargo,” he said. “It's just awesome to be on top of everything and look down at everything else that goes down below you.”
It is a potential future in aviation that is looking up.