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Jet Center partners with West Fargo School District

From left, Sheyenne High School Tech Ed. teacher Dave Gravdahl, flight school manager Mike Paulson, and Vice President of Marketing for the Fargo Jet Center Darren Hall check out a fuel line on a Cessna 172. Carrie Snyder1 / 2
Dave Gravdahl, left, and Flight School Manager Mike Paulson, right, go over parts of the plane outside the Fargo Jet Center. Carrie Snyder2 / 2

The West Fargo School District is working to get a new program off the ground, literally.

In their Jan. 13 meeting, the school board approved the creation of an Aviation Technology I course, set to begin in the fall of 2014 at Sheyenne High School, with an Aviation Technology II course to be created later.

The class is being created with the help of the Fargo Jet Center, and will also be available to Fargo and Northern Cass students.

Sheyenne CTE teacher Dave Gravdahl is currently training to receive his pilot’s certification at the Fargo Jet Center in order to teach three periods of this class next year, and cites the need for interactive student learning as the reason this class will be held.

“Every year, we Tech Ed. guys are trying to stay ahead of the STEM curve,” Gravdahl said. “About four years ago, we kind of kicked around this idea in the department. We thought about proposing it, but we didn’t really have an avenue upon which to get it out there. In 2011, they formed a CTE Committee that was looking for new classes, specifically for this school, so we proposed it there.”

Gravdahl, who has been teaching since 1997, has always had an interest in aviation — especially World War II-era planes — and jumped at the opportunity to teach this course.

“When we originally decided to get this going, we were strongly looking at certified flight instructors to come in and teach this,” Gravdahl said. “That is a very difficult thing to do. We had a few lined up that we were working with, but their careers take them beyond this, plus they are not certified to teach a class. I am very fortunate and blessed to get this support from the school district and the Jet Center.”

The course will provide a broad, all-encompassing look at aviation, covering the fundamentals of flight, flight operations, weather and navigation.

While the class will have a “pilot focus” early on, students will also look into several career opportunities in the field, including air traffic control, flight dispatching and airport management.

“Students are going to come in with little knowledge of what aerospace is about,” said Darren Hall, Vice President of Marketing at the Fargo Jet Center. “The most experience the general public gets in aerospace is going on a flight somewhere, so this class will introduce them to the many different aspects of aerospace that they could potentially find a career in.”

In Aviation Technology, students will receive hands-on, practical experience in the style of STEM courses, and will eventually implement a variety of activities pertaining to science, math and engineering.

A 2013 outlook report from Boeing projects a need for almost 500,000 new commercial pilots and over 550,000 technicians over the next 20 years, and the rise of unmanned aircrafts further amplifies the need employees in aviation support occupations. Reaching students before they graduate is a great way for future employees to hit the ground running, according to Hall.

“We see the immediate need for aviation professionals today,” Hall said. “It is becoming harder and harder to find experienced talent, especially in this area. We want to introduce that next generation to this workforce.”

Aviation Technology II, which will likely begin in the fall of 2015, will have students take a more in-depth look into the industry and, thanks to donations from the aerospace community, will likely provide students with a flight simulator and an old Curtiss fabric airplane that they can re-surface and hang from their shop as a decoration.

In the future, Gravdahl hopes his class will also give students the chance to construct an airplane of their own.

“Because of the partnerships we have, (the students) are going to be able to see and do a lot of real things that kids may not be able to do otherwise,” Gravdahl said. “It is going to be fun for them, but we also want to make this as practical as we can.”

According to Gravdahl, school has received plenty of positive feedback from students.

“When I first brought it up, there was a lot of interest from the kids that I talked to,” Gravdahl said. “We just had registration, and we were hoping to fill three sections. From what I am hearing, those three sections are already full, and we haven’t even heard about registrations from Fargo and Northern Cass schools yet. Numbers are not going to be a problem for us.”

Aviation Technology I will be available as a CTE elective class at Sheyenne High School in the fall for students in grades 10-12.