The Aspen School District is considering a new program that would teach students to fly airplanes as part of their math and science curriculum.
It would be modeled after a popular class that’s been in New Mexico schools since 2005. It was started there by flight instructor Greg Roark, who is the husband of the assistant superintendent of the Aspen School District and now lives here.
Roark launched the flight program at a group of charter schools in Albuquerque, N.M. The schools eventually leased two small planes for students. The program enrolled kids from grades 4 through 12, leading up to putting them in a cockpit.
It allowed students to earn their pilots’ licenses and eventually fly solo, while pairing flight time with classroom lessons on aerodynamics and applied mathematics.
Last month, a local couple donated $50,000 to the Aspen School District to launch the flight program here. Roark is scheduled to present the idea to the school board this afternoon.
“It would be an aviation and aerospace program,” said school district superintendent John Maloy.
Lawrence Altman, a local commodities trader and high school football coach, said he and his wife, Joan, wrote a check for the program in the hopes of encouraging students to pursue careers in math and science.
He said he’d learned about the New Mexico flight classes from Roark, and believed it would be an ideal, exciting way to beef up local math and science education.
“It sounds very aircraft-specific but really it teaches the kids physics and math,” Altman said. “It just seemed like something that was very worthwhile.”
He said his donation was motivated largely by the United States’ diminished role as a math and science leader.
“There is an enormous lack of engineers and mathematicians from this country,” he said.
More than half the engineering degrees awarded by American colleges are given to foreign-born students, according to the National Academy of Sciences, and American high school students on average score below the international field on math and science tests. Author Thomas Friedman called the trend a “quiet crisis” in his best-selling 2005 book, “The World is Flat.”
Altman, whose three daughters have attended local public schools, said he’s been frustrated with Colorado’s continued cuts to public education. The Aspen district is likely facing hundreds of thousands of dollars in cuts next year.
Altman said he is hoping motivated area residents with financial resources can prevent those cuts from diminishing the quality of local education by starting exceptional school programs like this one.
Launching the aviation classes here might require more fundraising, or matching funds through education grants. The school board is expected to discuss related costs today.
A report in the Albuquerque Journal stated that the Southwest Learning Centers charter schools spent $70,000 in 2009 on planes, fuel and related costs for Roark’s flight program. Students there, according to that report, also paid $50 out of pocket for each hour of flight time.
Roark said Thursday that school officials asked him not to comment on the high school aviation upstart program.
“Once you hear about the program you’ll think it’s pretty cool,” he said.