CTE in 1, 2, 3: Aerospace Career Academy Program at Sunlake High School - Guide to Greater Tampa Bay
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CTE in 1, 2, 3: Aerospace Career Academy Program at Sunlake High School

CTE in 1, 2, 3: Aerospace Career Academy Program at Sunlake High School

Magnet programs are a way for students to earn a specialized education, especially those in Greater Tampa Bay who want to learn how to fly.

Sunlake High School in the Pasco County School District is home to the Aerospace Career Academy Program. It allows students to learn what they need to become pilots and earn college credits all while they are in high school.

“We do everything for them to become a pilot, except their flight time,” said Mark Aragon, aviation instructor. “The program covers all the other costs.”

Earning Certifications and Gaining Skills

Students take foundational classes during their four years of instruction. This reveals whether they have the aptitude for the aviation program or more specialized ones in aeronautics and engineering.

They take the Federal Aviation Administration exam in their final year. This is the first step toward becoming a pilot. 

The classes are the same ones as all pilots have to take. They are not condensed or made easier since the students are in high school. The curriculum was created by the Airplane Owners and Pilots Association.

One of their projects is to design an airplane out of wood. Aragon said they have to take into account all of the details with design, aspect ratios, engineering and everything else needed for a plane to take flight.

“The kids who make it to the second year are pretty incredible,” he said.

Aviation students are also dual-enrolled in Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, earning college credits while in high school.

Discovering the World of Aviation Here at Home

Sunlake started the aviation program seven years ago. It was approved in 2022 to be a magnet program. Becoming a magnet program means it is available to all students in the Pasco School District, regardless of which school they are zoned for.

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The program continues to grow. Each class can accommodate up to 35 students.

In addition to Aragon, Instructor Joseph Fernandez teaches classes on engineering and robotics as they pertain to aeronautics and aviation. Together, the duo also heads up Sunlake’s Civil Air Patrol program.

CAP is the official auxiliary of the United States Air Force and has squadrons all over the country. Sunlake’s program is unique though. Most programs have students meet weekly. Sunlake’s CAP is treated like a class, and students meet every day.

Aragon said Sunlake’s aviation program model is being studied as a possible replacement for the Air Force’s JROTC programs throughout the country.

By Celia Goodyear.

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