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When the course selections for the 2021-2022 school year opened up at Buena Vista High School, the new drone class was nearly full in no time.

Adam Fuller, who teaches career and technical education, called it a “fast and furious sign-up process” in which students came from multiple approaches: those with high math levels and interested in engineering, kids interested in drones for sports applications, and also those with a leaning toward cinema and videography. He said there were almost equal numbers of boys and girls signing on.

Drones are finding their ways into high school curriculums as the possibilities for them open up. Photo by Ricardo Gomez Angel/Unsplash

The unmanned aerial system (drone) program,  is in part the brainchild of Taylor Albrecht, president of Central Colorado Unmanned Aerial Systems (CCUAS).

Albrecht has been encouraging the development of the class and says it can be a foundation for so many applications in Chaffee County: forestry, agriculture, firefighting, and real estate, for starters. He says that by having drone programs in local schools (Salida High School also offers instruction in unmanned aerial systems), Chaffee County stands a better chance of attracting drone-related industry, including the manufacturing of drones.

It helps that a state-of-the-art UAS park was recently established at the Buena Vista Rodeo Grounds as a four-zone facility for learning, competing, qualifying, and just having fun.

Fuller says the school plans to offer two sections in the introductory year. The program will start with ground school and learning about air space, the myriad regulations that come with flying, and weather.

“That way when we’re flying, we’re safe,” he said, noting that students will likely learn their first maneuvers inside the Sprung Building, where the weather and obstructions found in the outdoors aren’t a factor.

The course is getting a $1,000 boost through a Town of Buena Vista Community grant for teacher certification secured by CCUAS, an additional $500 from CCUAS, as well as two Ryze Tello aircraft systems, also courtesy of CCUAS.

The school plans to use Unmanned Safety Institute’s (USI) safety certification curriculum, which Albrecht hails as a very solid start. “Students that successfully complete the program will achieve not only a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Remote Pilot Certificate, but an industry-recognized safety certification,” he said. “This will give them an advantage in the burgeoning job market of this industry.”

He said that today, drones are taking their place as a rapidly growing and highly applicable technology. “Thirty years ago, home computers, cellphones, and the internet weren’t common in most homes,” Albrecht said. “About 20 years back, many colleges didn’t offer studies in computer programming, social media, web design and other topics that are standard in recent years.”

“Although some people may think of drones merely as a child’s flying toy, business leaders have become more aware of their potential impact and importance to our lives.”

Nick Langolf, USI’s lead academic, UAS Safety and Certification strategist, worked with Albrecht to present the program, which aims to empower students with the responsible use of technology, as well as become commercially licensed to fly a drone at age 16 and earn college credit and industry certifications.

Buena Vista School District Superintendent Lisa Yates said that UAS classes were recommended through a recent evaluation of Comprehensive Post-Secondary Readiness Programs (CPSR).

“In our research through the evaluation process, technology with adaptable and critical thinking was identified as a highly needed job skill,” said Yates. “We are excited to provide this opportunity to students to explore innovative thinking in potential career fields.”

Fuller said that even if students don’t pursue careers that use drones, they’ll be learning how to think critically. “What I love teaching in all my classes is the problem-solving.”