Woodlake High program “takes off” with 2nd grant

Three entrance signs of the Woodlake’s Airport on Highway 245 in Woodlake, Ca.(Rigo Moran)

The Aviation Pathway program at Woodlake High wins $100,000 in grand prize money from the Rural Tech Project

WOODLAKE – What started as an idea from the former assistant principal has now flown to new heights now that the aviation program at Woodlake High has won another grant.

Woodlake High School was chosen as the Grand Prize winner in the Rural Tech Project for its Aviation Program. This award was announced by assistant secretary of career, technical and adult education Amy Loyd on Sept. 12th at the Unlocking Pathways Summit in Biloxi Mississippi. This is a $100,000 award that will be used to enhance WHS’ Aviation Pathway further.

“I’m proud of the accomplishments of my staff. It’s been wonderful,” Woodlake High principal Michael Burchett said. “Once we got it up and running and I saw what our kids, our instructors and our partnerships had accomplished, I felt confident that we were going to be in a pretty good place.”

The Rural Tech Project is a U.S. Department of Education program that focuses on increasing career opportunities for students in rural communities by fostering their tech skills through school programs. One of the other skills the aviation program helps foster through applied learning is math. The program requires students to take aviation math classes, both to help them learn mathematics as well as potentially prepare them for a career in aviation.

“As a former math teacher, I can say that the biggest struggle is for kids to see applicability… but an object going through the air is a quadratic equation, in most cases,” Burchett said.

The former assistant principal of Woodlake High, Rudy Cardona, first had the idea to start the program and apply for phase one of the grants in 2020. According to Burchett, that was when Woodlake High – along with five other finalists interested in starting new programs – received a $100,000 grant through the Rural Tech Project for its program, which is teaching around 20 students aviation coursework.

“It was Rudy’s idea – he is a retired lieutenant colonel from the Air Force, who came into education as a second career. He saw we have an airport in town, which is not common for a town our size,” Burchett said. “He had a passion for aviation and realized that our biggest struggle is mathematics.”

Woodlake High School was chosen as one of five nationwide projects out of over 60 entrants as a finalist in December 2020. This initial award was also for $100,000 and provided planning support and a community engagement manager. Each finalist planned and implemented their program, which was evaluated by a panel of experts with a set of criteria. The final presentation of results was presented at the White House in July 2023.

The first $100,000 grant in 2020 is what allowed the school to start the program and subcontract a computing community engagement manager for the first two years. This provided Woodlake High with a community liaison to interact with their outside partners, such as the Flying Tiger Group out of Woodlake Airport.

“Initially, just by being a finalist, we were given an initial $100,000 but we were also given some other resources, including a community engagement manager, and some help with planning and implementing the program,” Burchett said. “We’re going to make sure to come together as a team, and make plans to use this money effectively, and continue and to make this a sustainable program that helps an increasing number of kids.”

Woodlake High School would like to sincerely thank its partners in assisting in this achievement, including, but not limited to, Benson Aviation, Proteus, the local Experimental Aircraft Association – The Flying Tigers!, the City of Woodlake and Reedley College.

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