Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Aviation High soars into the future, landing next to Boeing Field

The Seattle Times: Aviation High soars into the future, landing next to Boeing Field
Some gravel, some dirt, a lot of weeds and, in one corner, a portable toilet. That's about all that's been sitting in this vacant lot north of the Museum of Flight along East Marginal Way South.

To imagine this as the site of a cutting-edge educational facility that will help produce tomorrow's engineers, scientists, pilots, technicians and entrepreneurs takes vision.

Fortunately, vision is the common denominator among those who will gather Tuesday for the groundbreaking of the $43.5 million Raisbeck Aviation High School.

Donors and dreamers, educators and museum professionals, industry and government leaders, architects, planners and builders, even students have their stamp on the three-story school building due to open in 2013.

"We want to inspire the generation that's going to write the story of the second century of flight," said Douglas King, Museum of Flight CEO.

King said the museum — long before he came on board early this year — decided its goal wasn't just to collect and preserve aviation history but to help shape it.

Aviation High School, a public school that's part of the Highline School District, actually opened in 2004. It operated for its first few years at South Seattle Community College and, more recently, on the campus of a Des Moines middle school.

"We've been nomads," said Reba Gilman, principal since the school opened.

From the school's inception, the museum has been envisioned as its eventual home, Gilman said. Not only will it provide ready access to the museum's resources, it will put the school at the doorstep of some 200 flight-related businesses operating out of the Boeing Field area.

"Our goal is that every student is connected with a mentor in the aviation/aerospace industry," Gilman said. "We want them [the mentors] to come for lunch with students, share their education and career pathways, and be a true member of our learning community."

Every aspect of the building will reinforce its mission, Gilman said, including project labs in which students can build robots, rockets, model airplanes — even a small airplane.

Instead of athletics, the school will field "sports of the mind" teams, on which students use science, technology, engineering and communication skills to tackle real-world projects.

The building, designed by Bassetti Architects and being built by Porter Brothers Construction, will have a high-tech computer lab as well as meeting spaces where small groups can collaborate. A balcony looks out toward Boeing Field, where some 300,000 takeoffs and landings a year reinforce the nature of the school's curriculum.

The museum also will benefit from the juxtaposition, King said, by tapping the energy and vitality of high-school students to help with exhibits and programs at the museum.

When the school moves to its new quarters, its new name will honor the commitment of James and Sherry Raisbeck of Seattle, who have donated $3 million toward the school's construction. James Raisbeck heads Raisbeck Engineering and Raisbeck Commercial Air Group, innovators in aviation design.

Boeing has contributed $4 million. Jim Albaugh, Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO, said the school could be an important part of producing the company's future workforce, noting that half of Boeing's engineers are expected to retire over the next five years.

Gilman said the school is looking for students "who are inspired by aviation and aerospace" and ready to pursue a rigorous education in "STEM" subjects: science, technology, engineering and math. The school intends to stay small to focus effectively on individual students. This fall's freshman class of 115 was drawn from a pool of some 275 applicants, Gilman said.

Half of the school's 425 students come from the Highline School District; the others are drawn from a wide area around Puget Sound. Of 330 students who graduated in the school's first four classes, 95 percent have gone on to college.

Some of those graduates will participate in a ceremonial fly-in at Tuesday's event.

Among them will be Joey Marco, 21, of Des Moines, who's wanted to be a pilot since he was a toddler. He recalls cross-country flights to see relatives or go on vacation, "And it was always the trip I looked forward to, not the destination."

Marco was in Aviation High School's initial graduating class, 2008 — the same year he got his pilot's license. This year, he graduated from Florida's Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, completing four years of curriculum in three.

He soon will head to basic training in the Air Force, where he hopes to become an officer and fighter pilot. The value of his experience at Aviation High School, which included learning directly from pilots and aviation engineers, was evident at Embry-Riddle.

"We had students from all over," Marco said, "and I felt I was better prepared than most."

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