Airport, Textron, Others Provide Students with Hands-on Work Experience
By Amanda King
Donquarius Rhodes, has already made up his mind what he wants to do now that he has graduated from Lucy Laney High School next year – become a pilot for Delta.
Dreams like that are music to the aviation industry’s ears. The average age of aviation employees is currently at 57 years old. With many of those workers preparing for retirement, there is need for a lot more students like Rhodes.
“We want to spark that interest so they will go into the field because we need employees,” Lauren Smith, communications manager at Augusta Regional Airport, said.
The Augusta Regional Airport began offering STEM career days in 2015, giving 15 middle school and 15 high school students the opportunity to observe the airport environment and learn more about the aviation field. Last year, the airport decided to offer its first Shadow Program, allowing high school students to spend two weeks during the summer learning about all areas of the aviation industry including operations, airport engineering, avionics and flight training.
The Shadow Program is a partnership with the Richmond County Board of Education. Students submit applications and are chosen by representatives from the airport. Selected students then have two weeks to learn the aviation process at Daniel Field and Bush Field. Rhodes and JaQuan Hall from Richmond Academy High School each spend a week at one field and then swap fields the following week, allowing for one-on-one time with instructors.
“Any opportunity for kids is wonderful where they can get hands-on experience, whether it’s aircraft mechanics or finance, because at least they can go ahead and see if they are truly interested in that,” Smith said
The aviation Shadow Program is not the only opportunity for students to learn outside the classroom. At the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce Town Hall meeting in June, RCBOE Superintendent Dr. Angela Pringle shared the success stories of other programs that have been implemented to prepare students of all backgrounds for the workforce.
In 2016, Textron Specialized Vehicles partnered with the RCBOE to allow high school students to work at their sub-production location for a new program called Reaching Potential Through Manufacturing (RPM). Students spend half of their day at school and the other half at a Textron manufacturing facility where they receive on-the-job training, life skills, mentoring and classroom instruction.
Twenty-four students graduated from the inaugural class in May, and the program expects more participants this year. Many students in the program accepted full-time jobs with Textron following graduation.
With the influx of cyber jobs in the area, RCBOE schools are also implementing a cyber program curriculum and want to hire someone to be in charge of cyber and technology in the district so they can make sure their programs are on the right path.
“We know that the school district is important for economic development, and we know that things must happen for us to move as a community,” Pringle said.
While cyber programs are beneficial, many students are limited in their ability to complete assignments at home. Once they leave the school building due to lack of wireless internet access outside of schools.
“We have the devices they can use, but they do not have the wireless access at home,” Pringle said. She added that the school board is working with city leaders to provide internet access in the city.
Even with odds like that against students, the graduation rate for Richmond County schools increased 17 percent this year, a good sign that programs like these are working.
And more opportunities are coming: Philip Wahl and the Augusta Metro Chamber’s Business Education Advisory Council which helps tie the business community and public education. Wahl serves as the chairman of the council and also spoke at the Town Hall meeting.
“We put our heads together, and we are making sure we come up with the best ideas and practices,” Wahl said. “We’re not trying to recreate the wheel, there’s a lot of great groups in town.”
Wahl said the group is looking for internship possibilities for students to serve in various occupations, but to do that and the other goals the council has made, they need two things: money and mentors.
“It’s a big undertaking and we understand that it’s not going to happen overnight but we already see a lot of efforts,” Wahl said.