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Mancos High School teams up with PCC to offer drone class

Mancos High School students participate in a drone class launched in conjunction with Pueblo Community College and Colorado State University. (Courtesy photo)
Course provides hands-on, project-based training and potential for income

Mancos High School, in conjunction with Pueblo Community College and Colorado State University, recently launched a drone class to teach students how to fly and maintain drones while working toward a pilot’s license.

Todd Cordrey, superintendent of the Mancos School District RE-6, said the class is part of the district’s strategic plan for hands-on and directed project-based learning. The drone class joins classes such as culinary, welding, entrepreneurship and health care sciences.

“It calls for student career-connected learning, and it also calls to really provide voice and choice for students and opportunities to connect with things that are interesting to them,” Cordrey said. “Our school district was going to focus on project-based learning as our primary instructional tool.”

The class holds 38 students and is taught by Cortez Regional Airport Manager Jeremy Patton, who is instrumental in teaching the students about flying, operating and maintaining drones.

A photo taken from a drone by Mancos High School student Cash Everett. (Courtesy photo)

The drone program is under the umbrella of PCC’s agriculture program. Agriculture program coordinator Heather Houck said they hope to make the program even more detailed to include more specialties in drone technology.

“There’s a humongous demand for it,” she said.

According to Patton and Cordrey, the drone class is much more involved than simply learning to fly drones. The students learn how to conduct preflight checks and monitor the weather and about how drones operate and move in space.

The science is rigorous, but students learn the concepts while having fun and learning more about the world of aviation.

“Aviation for me was a gateway to a world I didn’t think I had access to,” Patton said. “And I think it’s great to see some of these kids’ eyes light up when some of the information clicks because it’s a lot of information. For some students it’s overwhelming, but you start seeing it click.”

The class is provided with 12 top-of-the-line drones. The drones, which cost $2,300 each, were purchased through two grants written last year.

The students have acquired their recreational FAA Part 107 operator license, which Patton says is similar to ground-school certification for pilots.

“Now they’re in the process of studying for their FAA commercial license, and they’ll have that by December,” Cordrey said. “We’re excited and proud of our students for going through this work.”

These certifications provide opportunities for students who plan on using their drone operating skills in the workforce.

“Then there’s some of these students who want to pursue their actual pilot’s license, so this is a great stepping stone,” Patton said.

After the students finish their FAA commercial license in December, they will work on building their drone-operating resume and portfolio for employers over the spring semester.

During the semester, students will learn how to apply their drone skills to various industries and build a portfolio of videos for each industry. While mastering their drone and video skills, they will be creating employable material that markets their abilities.

Professions that might need drone service include law enforcement, environmental, fire control, search and rescue, journalism and real estate.

“We wanted our students to go straight from getting their commercial license to be able to work in a variety of different industries,” Cordrey said.

The class also might help students to earn money in college or in the workforce. Drone operators with a commercial license have a starting pay of $60,000 per year.

“Operating drones is one way to not only find work and make money legally and safely, but also again is a great stepping stone into the aviation community which is slowly starting to expand in this region of Colorado,” Patton said.

Houck also touted the job skills.

“Being able to offer these programs and these courses in a rural community is really important,” she said. “These are jobs you can take and go anywhere.”

While the program is only available to Mancos High School and PCC students, Houck hopes to expand the program to other schools in the area.

“We have no intention of keeping it to one high school,” Houck said.

They’re creating a class to train teachers how to operate drones and teach the classes, and launching an eight-week online course that prepares them for the drone operator 107 license on their own time.

“We want to be able to help in our own region but then make this available to any high school that wants it,” Houck said.