FALLS TOWNSHIP — When Darrin Vensil was a child, he thought about being a pilot. He didn’t expect a career as a teacher would help him get there, though.
That’s because last year West Muskingum High School started offering a STEM aviation class. It teaches the basics of aviation — identifying the parts, how different aircraft work, the science behind flight.
Vensil won a flight school scholarship through the organization that offers the curriculum. It made a childhood whim come to life, but Vensil said it’s also helped him become a better teacher.
“(Compared to) last year when I had no experience, and this year when I had 20-some hours that I’ve been flying so far, how much I’ve been learning from that and how I’ve been able to incorporate those experiences into my class this year is great,” he said.
Some students who have taken the course during its one-year run at the high school have had an interest in a career in aviation, but others haven’t. But, Vensil hopes everyone takes at least something worthwhile away from it.
“What do I want them to learn? I guess it depends on them,” he said. “Maybe next time they get on a airplane to go somewhere they can look back on this class … Just think about how it relates to what they might use in their everyday life, or what they might look up in the sky and see.”
A different type of science class
It all started when a physics student approached Vensil with interest in taking a new science course. Most other science electives offered at the high school are biology-based, so Vensil started looking into other options.
That’s when the idea for a high school class curriculum created by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association came to be. Vensil compares it to a simplified version of ground school, which prospective flight school students take before they start learning from the air.
“Airplanes have been around for over 100 years, but a lot of people don’t know how they fly,” he said. “So we learn a lot of that type of stuff in class.”
While students won’t get into the cockpit while taking the West Muskingum class, Vensil said they learn as much as they can from the ground through hands-on experiments, like testing air drones and designing paper planes. And the school also received a grant to buy special computers for virtual reality flight simulations.
AOPA also offers scholarships to teachers and students who use the course. Vensil was one of 20 teachers in the country last year to be selected for the scholarship and started flight school in July.
Best case scenario?
Vensil said the class opens some eyes for a new career in aviation. But there’s a lot more to it than working on a commercial jet, he said.
“That’s what people think of when they hear ‘pilot,’ but there’s so much more you can do in the aviation world,” Vensil said. “You may never set foot in a commercial airliner, but you can still make a great impact in the community.”