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Covington Airport used in aviation class
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The Covington Municipal Airport is partnering with a Rockdale County Middle School, Conyers Middle School, to allow students to get a first-person view of the equipment used for aviation as well as see the day-to-day operations of an airport.

Airport Manager Vincent Passariello said that the school and students will have a 3,000-square-feet facility to use at their disposal. In there, students will be shown and can handle some of the parts used on a daily basis.

The new aerospace engineering specialty program at Conyers Middle School will teach more than 100 students about different positions available in the aviation industry and raise awareness that there’s a need to fill the positions, says Conyers Middle School Assistant Principal Anterro Graham, the program’s project leader.

CMS will have about 30 seats per grade for students not in CMS’s district and about 60 to 70 spaces reserved for students zoned to go to CMS when it officially launches at the beginning of the next school year. The school is also completing a new 15,000 square foot wing, funded with more than $6.8 million from the penny-sales tax for education that will fund additional classrooms, computer labs, manufacturing and design labs, and more. There are also plans for a possible hangar and video studio space in the future.

“I think it’s an opportunity to give these kids a chance to look at the world with a different lens,” Graham said. “We’re looking at creating a new curriculum that’s truly project based and truly blending our core teachers and elective teachers together so our kids have a different learning environment.”

Newton County has no current plans about a similar program but Tim Schmitt, Career, Technical and Agricultural Education Coordinator for Newton County School System, said introductory conversations with Passariello have taken place.

“Specific details of starting a program in Newton were not discussed,” he said. “But we did have a rather general conversation regarding careers within the industry and potential opportunities for our students.

“We are interested in exploring the idea of starting an aerospace/flight program within NCSS. The recent action taken towards the expansion of the Covington Municipal Airport makes a program like this even more appealing because there will be a strong need in our community for a workforce with experience in that area.”

Graham, who has background experience as a pilot for the U.S. Air Force, mechanical engineer and computer science engineer, envisions this program being a career pathway for students into different positions, like air traffic controller, pilots, drone pilots, mechanics and others in the industry, which is losing thousands of employees annually due to retirement, says Graham.

The plan is to get Rockdale County High School and Rockdale Career Academy involved to allow students transition from CMS into a new phase of the program when they get to the high school level.

“We want to create a pathway for our students,” he said. “I want to be able to tell parents of sixth graders, ‘if your child does this and does that, then they could be successful in this field’.”

Passariello said getting kids to see these types of things at an early age will help really help them get a sense of the business and spark interest.

“Many students at this age aren’t exposed to these types of industries,” Passariello said. “This is to promote interest in the area.”

Passariello adds that as the program progresses, student may be able to do internships at the airport while still in high school. These internships through the program could save a student time and money on higher education costs.

“I can very well see a path where, maybe with an extra two years of schooling, right out high school, [a student] can get a job in the field,” he said. “It’ll make a big difference.”

Working with the Covington airport will also allow the school to become an official Civil Air Patrol Squadron, an auxiliary branch of the U.S. Air Force. Graham says that the school has already received a memorandum of understanding from the Civil Air Patrol to start a squadron.

The program has seemed to garner interest of the parents of the community already. At an open house on Dec. 16, nearly 150 people showed up to learn more about the program and aviation.

Delta Airlines, another partner of the program, had about six professionals from the industry come to the open house to talk to the crowd. The Delta experts were able to give students and parents an outlook on the jobs needed for the aviation industry as far out as the year 2025.

There was also a panel discussion towards the end of the event where people were able to ask industry experts their own question.

“There was an 11-year-old that came to the microphone and asked ‘What kind of CO2 emissions are coming from the airplanes?’ Stop the madness! To have an 11-year-old ask that, that’s what we want,” Graham said.

The school is also looking to partner with other businesses and community organizations. Graham said that this program can help aviation industry, but the skills that will be taught can be translated into other jobs and businesses as well.

“We really need industry in here with us,” said Graham, mentioning Baxter International in Newton County as another potential business partner for the program.

On top of finding more partnerships within the community, Graham is also looking for grants for the program to help fund new equipment for the program.

“Our mission for 2015-16 is to get collaboration going,” he said. “We’re applying for grants. It’s all about funds. You get the funds, it happens in 2015-16.”