Queens, New York – Attitude Is Everything. These three words are stenciled on the overhead beams of the entrance hallway at Aviation High School (AHS) in Long Island City, Queens, New York are a vintage greeting to more than 2,000 aviation-minded students a day. A banner spanning the hallway that leads to a hangar where more than a dozen planes serve as hands-on training tools reads: “Welcome to the Aviation High School Hangar Where Careers Take Flight.”
The 2017-2018 school year at this specialized New York Public School started promptly at 8:25 a.m. on Sept. 7. In his Welcome Back message to students and parents, Principal Stephen Jackson encouraged the student body to, “prepare for a busy and productive school year.”
Students at AHS can opt to extend their training and earn additional FAA certifications by taking an internship in the industry and becoming fifth-year seniors. By graduation their time is well spent, as many students leave AHS with a high school diploma and an FAA certificate or two that allows them to start working on aircraft or accept an invitation to continue on to advanced training with a head start on job placement.
According to Jackson, most students will have jobs as soon as they graduate and a majority go on to get college degrees. The vocational education they receive at the public high school helps many students avoid debt.
In 1958 AHS, which occupies an entire city block, opened its doors as a specialized public school that New York City students could attend for free and graduate from with skills to land a job in the aviation industry.
The $9-million facility continues to house the largest FAA-certified Aviation Maintenance Technician high school in the U.S. The program, which also has a classroom and mentor program with several airlines at John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) airport, was established by the New York Public School District to help perpetuate a flow of FAA certified Aircraft Maintenance Technicians (AMTs) specializing in Airframe and Powerplant maintenance.
Aviation High traces its history back to 1925 when interest in the aviation industry called for the launch of a two-year industrial school for aviation mechanics, electrical wiring, and carpentry courses as part of the Central Building Trade School based in Manhattan
The Aeronautical Commission and the U.S. Army and Navy provided training equipment for the classrooms, and after World War II, the school started preparing students for college engineering programs. In 1949 the Civil Aeronautics Association, now the Federal Aviation Administration, offered the opportunity for students to earn certificates. Over the next decade the program outgrew its facility in Manhattan and moved to its current location in Long Island City, Queens.
The school’s name was changed from the School of Aviation Trades and College Preparatory Program to Aviation High School which it is still referred to even after The New York City Board of Education officially changed the name to Aviation Career and Technical Education High School. In 1975, the school became co-ed and female students were allowed to enroll.
The facility takes up an entire city block, has a 10,000 square foot hangar, 15,000 square feet of aircraft storage space for equipment that Airframe students train on, a test cell for Powerplant students, seven floors of academic classrooms, fully-equipped aviation shop classroom, auditorium, gym, cafeteria, and a school yard. AHS functions as a high school with English, library, mathematics, science and social studies departments along with extracurricular clubs and sports teams.
According to Jackson, “the general curriculum is put in front” at AHS and the technical training is delivered in multiple period time blocks. To receive the required hours of training and prepare for FAA testing, students fulfill rotations with longer lab blocks as the students head into their junior and senior years.
Student Roles, Expectations
In the advanced training classes, Jackson said student teams are created and roles are assigned to model after the industry workplace format. “Crew chief, tool chief, various positions,” Jackson said about the jobs that students will step into. “They have roles in the class and the crew stays the same during a rotation,” Jackson added. “They elect a foreman or crew chief every 34 days in senior power plant class.”
Graduates of AHS receive a high school diploma and at least half of each graduating class receives a technical FAA certification. Students who opt to enroll in the fifth-year senior honors program can receive certification in both Airframe and Powerplant if they successfully complete the training and pass FAA exams required for certification. An Airframe certification is required to work on aircraft structures, systems and components, while a Powerplant certification is required to work on engines, powerplant systems and components.
At the end of each school year, the planes in the hangar, including a 1969 Cessna, an Aero Commander, and a recently donated glider, are pushed aside and a graduation ceremony plays out. “The stage comes in, and the seats go out to the fence,” Jackson said. When the students hear their names called they approached the stage and receive more than a high school diploma Jackson said.
According to AHS assistant principal Mario Cotumaccio, almost half of the 2017 graduating class received an FAA certification. “Of the 579 students who received their high school diploma this past June, 281 received FAA certifications.
“They’ll have a license to work on engines, or they’ll have a license to work on everything but engines, or both,” said Jackson.
As of 2011, Aviation High School has been awarded seven straight “A” ratings by the New York City Department of Education, and has been recognized as one of the best high schools in the nation by U.S. News & World Report.
For more information about Aviation High School, visit www.aviationhs.net.
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