A new club is taking off at Newton High School this year. Born of an interest to get a new class started in the Career and Technical Education program, the drone club was officially launched this past fall.
CTE director Blake Smith and NHS English teacher Scott McCloud worked together to make the club a reality after efforts began to bring a drone class to the high school. Not knowing when the class would get the official green light, they were set on getting students an opportunity to interact with that technology as soon as possible.
“We just wanted to get kids flying drones, whether we got the class approved or not; we didn’t know,” McCloud said. “You propose and you just don’t know, but we wanted kids flying drones.”
McCloud is a licensed drone pilot and used some of his personal drones to help start the club (given his open slot to take on another club), while the high school also purchased a couple of drones for the club's use. The club, with eight members as part of the initial group, meets quarterly to get hands-on experience flying those drones.
Part of the push behind the club was to facilitate opportunities for students with career aspirations in drone technology who may not get the chance to take the planned class, while it is also intended to generate more interest in the class in the future.
“We had several kids who talked to me just knowing that I had a drone pilot’s license. That’s a career they’re interested in,” McCloud said. “So, we have two (kinds of) kids. We have a couple kids, they want a license and a career, so they’re using the club to get some flying experience and pick my brain on what you need to do. Then, we have four or five kids, they just want to fly.”
Each quarterly meeting of the drone club begins with 10 to 15 minutes of review of safe flying before the students find an open space at the high school to get some practice.
Students with all levels of flying experience make up the initial club membership. Whether they are novices or experienced pilots working toward their license, McCloud noted the element of fun with flying drones has been a big attraction.
For the more advanced students, McCloud said, he has offered the opportunity to work on programming some of the drones that feature those capabilities in an effort to encourage career exploration.
“My goal is to give kids a chance to pass the remote piloting command (test) and then get a chance at an emerging career,” McCloud said. “This is an opportunity for them to get some sense of what programming a drone looks like.”
Ultimately, career exploration is the goal of the class, which was officially approved by the Board of Education in December, as well. That was the driver for the club, too, and while investigating the depths of that technology is still something McCloud wants to offer through both outlets, he said he’d beOK if the club served simply as a means of exposure.
“I think there’s a really good chance of some really good jobs in the future. It’s an emerging technology, it’s an emerging career field. I know some professional pilots who are doing it as a career. If kids are interested in that, then it’s my pleasure as a teacher, let me help,” McCloud said. “Even if not, I’d love to see the drone club just grow as a club and meet all kids who want to try their hand at it.”