RICHMOND HEIGHTS, Ohio (WJW) — A new, innovative aviation curriculum is taking local students to new heights. It’s called the Aviation Career Exploration Program and was launched in the Richmond Heights Local School District for students in the 7th grade through 12th grade.
As part of the program, on Thursday the first “Discovery Flights” took off from the T&G Flying Club at the Cuyahoga County Airport in Richmond Heights.
“We realized we have a gem here in our city with an airport,” said Superintendent Renee Willis, Ph.D. “So we’ve begun to cultivate relationships with all of our partners here and T&G Flying Club is one of those partners.”
A flight instructor with T&G first took the superintendent and principal for a ride and then it was time for two high school students to fly.
“This will be my first time on a plane actually, so I’m excited but nervous a little bit,” said sophomore Diamond McClendon.
Students were nervous because this wasn’t a joy ride, but an actual flight lesson. Students get to operate the controls and their time is logged towards getting a student pilots license.
The program, which was made possible through a state grant, allowed the district to outfit a classroom with actual aviation training equipment.
“We have flight simulators, we’ve been able to send students to aviation camps and now we’re out here actually flying,” said Dr. Willis.
The program also includes instruction dealing with aircraft mechanics, manufacturing, operations, marketing, IT, drones and much more says Dr. Willis, “And the students are just blown away by the fact that there are just so many careers around aviation they hadn’t thought about because they don’t see those careers.”
McClendon and another student, senior Jamari Peterson flew from the airport on Curtiss Wright Parkway over to Burke Lakefront Airport; taking turns piloting the small Cessna with their flight instructor.
An hour later when they returned both students were on cloud nine.
“I’m grateful I’m happy that I got this opportunity I’m like more excited to be a pilot now,” said Peterson.
When asked about flying a plane on her first time being on a plane, McClendon admitted it was nerve-racking, but also fun.
“I feel like because it was my first time I’m overly excited it was just like whoa,” said McClendon.
Flight Instructor Izzy Wilks was impressed with both of the teenagers and says they both did a great job.
“They did really well, we did quite a few maneuvers and it was a very thorough introduction to flying,” said Wilks.
More students are headed to the airport for their “Discovery Flights” on Friday.
About 20 are currently enrolled in the program according to the superintendent, who has high hopes for the future, and not just for their students, but all students across Northeast Ohio who might be interested in an aviation career.
“In this region we don’t have an aviation school, so my big dream would be that Richmond Heights could become the hub, we could become that feeder to Kent State University that has a great aviation program and also Ohio State.”
She hopes it can advance and enhance the lives of many young people throughout the area, but she says especially minority students.
“In the world of aviation minorities are underrepresented,” said Dr. Willis, “Our students have an opportunity to make an impact in a career field where they’re greatly underrepresented so that’s my hope.”