PCHS_Crest_300dpiBy Lynn Hobbs
The Eatonton Messenger
August 25, 2016

Putnam County High School is flying ahead of others in the state and nation, according to dignitaries and leaders at a recent event. It is the only high school in Georgia, and possibly one of a few in the nation, that now offers a certified drone pathway, they said. Students who complete the courses will be qualified for certification in the field through the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), school officials said Friday during a launch of the pathway.

“I think it’s a fantastic program; I think it will be the first of many,” Mike Howard said after the presentation. Howard is a curriculum program specialist for the Technical College System of Georgia and was one of about 100 people from all over the state who attended the event.

“It’s the tip of the iceberg as more and more industries will find they need to use drones and need pilots,” he added. The drone, or unmanned aircraft system, course is the high school’s 16th pathway in its college and career academy, Principal Marc Dastous said. College and career academies, which allow high school students to simultaneously earn technical certifications and/or college credits while earning their high school diploma, was an initiative of Georgia Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle. The state’s second in command was at PCHS Friday for the launch.

Putnam County High School Senior Jarad Coranado, standing, shows Georgia Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle how to operate a flight panel simulator.
Putnam County High School Senior Jarad Coranado, standing, shows Georgia Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle how to operate a flight panel simulator.

“Any category you use to measure Putnam County schools by, they are succeeding. It’s remarkable that students are fighting to get into school, versus fighting to get out,” Cagle said, bringing applause from the audience.

Others who attended the special launching event include State School Board 10th Congressional District Representative Brian K. Burdette, State Sen. Burt Jones, R-Jackson, several representatives from the Technical College System of Georgia, representatives from the offices of U.S. Sen. Johnny Isaakson and U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, R-Monroe, Georgia CCA Network Chairman Barbara Prosser, representatives from other technical colleges and school districts, local entities, local public safety, businesses, and more.

Putnam County Board of Education Chairman Dr. Steve Weiner thanked legislators for the state’s charter and college and career schooling opportunities. “We are doing what we should be doing – providing children opportunities they might not otherwise thought of in a small rural area,” he said.

Students of the new class fly smaller drones over the crowd during Friday’s launch of Putnam County High School’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Pathway.
Students of the new class fly smaller drones over the crowd during Friday’s launch of Putnam County High School’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Pathway.

“I like it a lot,” Senior Jarad Coronado said. “College and Career Academy has really opened up different opportunities to us and giving it all to us for free. It gives you a taste of do you really want to do this before you go to college and spend a lot of money. And I can get a job right out of high school; I’m going to college, but I could get a job if I wanted.” Jarad said he is a certified nursing assistant and certified in first aid through PCHS and Central Georgia Technical College’s healthcare pathway, and now he is trying out unmanned aircraft aviation. “I’ve always been intrigued by technology. This pathway gives me the opportunity to have fun at school – just putting those two words in the same sentence is unusual,” he added with a laugh.

The drone pathway is a partnership between PCHS, Mercer University and Advanced Airspace Management, Superintendent Eric Arena said, noting “it took five months to go from conversation to actually having a pathway.”

Mercer University School of Engineering Associate Professor Dr. Anthony Choi said his program is providing the educational component, while John Granich at Advanced Airspace Management is providing the commercial component. Choi’s primary research at Mercer is autonomous mobile robotics and artificial intelligence, through which he creates projects for NASA. Arena noted the PCHS students will have the opportunities to at least watch some NASA projects, or potentially be involved.

“We are creating a feeder system into our program, or any university’s,” Choi said. “We jumped at the chance because we will get to know more students.”

Granich recently started AAM in Putnam County along with partner Advanced Airspace Management logoTommy Cook. Advanced Airspace Management flies drones for mining and agriculture businesses. Granich, who is looking to employ about 300 UMA pilots, said he will be training students that could become his own employees.

“To think that here in Putnam County, an entire industry was started that will train for companies like Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, is remarkable,” Cagle noted to The Eatonton Messenger. “I know if you give people the opportunity to create and explore, they will come up with great things, and Putnam County certainly is doing that.”

Although the various Putnam school administrators spoke to kick off the event, the launch itself was led by PCHS students. There are 15 in the first drone class, being taught by Granich, Cook and Choi. PCHS student Dayana Paz led the group outside using a drone she had pre-programmed to show them the way out of the building. There other students demonstrated various types of drones, then the crowd went into the classroom for more student-led demonstrations.


Link to 13wmaz TV Macon’s coverage of the event at PCHS: