New building wing will help North Star students prepare for career launch
North Star High School students will see their aviation careers take off thanks to a major facility expansion project.
School and community members celebrated the completion of aviation classrooms and an airplane hangar for North Star’s Aviation and Technical Education Focus Program at an open house Dec. 4. Several speakers noted the importance of community partnerships in projects like this during the dedication program before tours of the facility were given.
“None of this would have been possible without the unwavering support of our community partners,” Lincoln Board of Education member Kathy Danek told the crowd. “Your generosity, guidance and belief in our vision have laid the foundation for these incredible opportunities for our students. Together, we're shaping a future where every child can dream big and reach for the skies.”
Amanda Woodward leads courses for the focus program. She grew up riding in airplanes with her uncles and is passionate about all aviation-related topics. She said the new classroom space would give students a runway and help them soar into their future careers.
“If you’re in this room, I’ve probably asked you to buy me something for my classroom, donate something to my classroom or to get me a hangar to teach in. When it comes to opportunities for students, I’m a squeaky wheel,” Woodward told the audience. “Squeaky wheelin’ isn’t always super popular. But ‘this is the way it’s always been’ isn’t really compatible with the Lincoln Public Schools All Means All Action Plan. I’m grateful to work for a school district that embraces the changes necessary to support and uplift students.”
North Star sophomore Emma is in her first year with the program. She has been attracted to aviation since she was little and wants to become a pilot. She was happy to see how the community has supported the building project.
“It feels really good that they want to help youth prosper,” Emma said.
Jason Thomsen shared the same enthusiasm about the endeavor. Thomsen works with aviation programming as the LPS career and technical education curriculum specialist.
He said the new classrooms were a big victory for everyone in Lincoln, as aviation will continue to be a major industry. A Boeing study released in July 2023 forecasts that 649,000 new pilots and 690,000 new maintenance technicians will be needed to support the global commercial fleet over the next 20 years.
“The aviation industry is in need of workers worldwide,” Thomsen said. “Thus, being able to provide students with the skills and knowledge necessary will allow them to pursue a high-demand and high-wage career. The demand for these hands-on aviation courses has been high and it has been great to see the expansion of the program year after year.”
Leon Holloway, vice president of team member services at Lincoln-based Duncan Aviation, said that is a major reason the company is passionate about the focus program. LPS began offering classes in 2019-20 for students in grades 9-12 interested in aviation and technical careers. District leaders mapped out the program using STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) curriculum materials developed by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.
Everyone soon realized the program was outgrowing its original classroom space. They formed partnerships with Duncan Aviation and Boys and Girls Club of Lincoln/Lancaster County to ensure it would continue to thrive.
Holloway said local officials visited programs at both Omaha Burke High School and a school in Grand Rapids, Mich., to explore possible options for Lincoln. They felt a new hangar and classrooms would accommodate all of their educational needs, but Lincoln could do it better than programs they saw in other places.
“We did it,” Holloway said. “We absolutely did it.”
Duncan Aviation provided a gift of $3,335,000 in May 2022 for the project, and Boys and Girls Club of Lincoln/Lancaster County contributed $805,000. LPS added $1.5 million from the 2020 bond issue to complete the venture.
The first flight of aviation courses attracted 150 students. The number of enrollments at North Star has skyrocketed since then. There are 317 students taking classes this year.
The program’s three original aviation offerings – power mechanics, aviation I and aviation II – had been taught in the same room. Thomsen said the new facility will allow the aviation I and II courses to be held in a room dedicated to those classes. The power mechanics course will take place in the airplane hangar, and a flight-based course will be held in a classroom featuring 13 flight simulators.
Students can also take a new advanced aviation maintenance course. They will use industry-standard equipment and do hands-on projects designed to mimic some of the skills that an airframe and powerplant (A&P) mechanic needs to have. A&P mechanics repair and maintain aircraft parts such as engines, brakes, landing gear and air-conditioning systems.
The expansion will also provide opportunities for Boys and Girls Club of Lincoln/Lancaster County. The organization will use new space on the south side of the school building for Community Learning Center (CLC) programming. The club currently offers after-school and summer activities for CLC students in arts, education, health and wellness, leadership, service and sports/recreation areas.
Woodward has been around airplanes for most of her life. She was grateful that current and future students will be able to navigate their way through successful skies at North Star.
“It is the honor of a lifetime to build this program, to work with my friends at Duncan Aviation, to get tools in the hands of students, and to teach them what high-skill, high-wage and high-demand aviation maintenance careers look like,” Woodward said.
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Published: December 5, 2023, Updated: December 5, 2023