When one drives into Cross City, FL, the airport (KCTY) may not be too noticeable, but if you are a student in Michele Burke’s class at Dixie County High School, you will know about it. She teaches Aviation Sciences at Dixie County High School where students from grades 9-12 learn everything from aviation history and flying an airplane to building a drone capable of conducting mock roof inspections.
Teaching at Dixie County High School since 2015, Michele’s journey started with Principal of Dixie County High School, Diana Locke, asking if she would be willing to take on a subject she had never taught. As a math and technology teacher, the concepts she already taught provided her with the foundation to learn the science of flying. However, Michele’s interest in aviation had been ignited 8 years before when she flew along the Australian coast and the Great Barrier Reef, in a helicopter, for the first time. Ultimately, Embry Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) wanted to offer dual enrollment classes through Michele at Dixie County High School; thus, she said she would learn the material along with her students to model the idea that learning is a lifelong endeavor.
The students in Michele’s classes are spread across three years of Aviation Sciences. By the third year, students are prepared to sit for the FAA exam for a private pilot’s license. When Michele first introduced the aerospace program to her students, her students thought that a career in aviation/aerospace was way out of their league and only within reach of the smart kids. At the time, most of the students didn’t even realize there was a small airport (KCTY) right across from the high school. Currently, twenty percent of the students who enroll in Dixie County High are there to be a part of her aviation program.
Throughout the program, Michele introduces them to the various careers in Aviation. Considered economically disadvantaged, Dixie County High School enrolls over five hundred local students per year. Since most of her students grow up working on cars, four-wheelers, and boats, she bridges the similarities between their background knowledge and the world of aircraft. Michele says, “It is so much fun to see the ah-ha moment and watch their confidence increase when they make that connection. My goal is to interest students in a variety of careers in the industry by sparking their curiosity and giving them the knowledge and confidence to pursue these careers.”
Keeping her students engaged is part of the success. Michele’s classroom is chock-full of equipment that allows her students to experience the real world of aviation. On a recent visit to her classroom, Michele’s students flew Gleim simulators that virtually took one student out of the Cross City Airport and into space! While in another part of her classroom, students were operating drones to fly through an obstacle course. Everywhere you looked, Michele’s students had their eyes, and their minds, in the sky!
Providing access to all this equipment is no small accomplishment. She is constantly researching opportunities to acquire equipment. Through a program partnership with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, students have access to a variety of DJI and Parrot drones and UAS technology. Students learn to use checklists, aeronautical charts, flight computers, and PIX4D mapping software. Michele says, “Earlier this year, we added a Redbird TD-1 flight simulator to the program to expose students to flying aircraft as well as drones.”
Additionally, through a generous grant from American Airlines, she purchased the Gleim X-Plane 11 Flight Training Course, computers, and peripherals to create a flight simulator room where students can practice the aeronautical principles they study in class. Michele stated that these give her students even more flight experience. It is not uncommon to see students before and after school or during lunch flying on the simulators. Michele says, “The training software on the simulator engages my students in the learning experience. It’s amazing to see the problem solving, critical thinking, and communication skills that students are developing while flying!”
Further sparking their interest, Michele, with the help of the Experimental Aircraft Association, recently organized an event on a Saturday in March where students were given the opportunity to fly on a small aircraft. Most of the students who attended were her female students, and for some of them it was the first time they were near a plane, let alone in a plane. The event was so successful, she is planning another in June. Michele says, “It was so cool hearing them talk about the opportunity in class and telling their classmates about how they actually got the opportunity to fly the plane. Saying they are ‘hooked’ is putting it mildly.”
In addition to the simulators, Michele revealed that Gleim has been instrumental in the success of the students at Dixie County High School. The Gleim Test Prep materials are used to help the students prepare for the FAA Remote Pilot exam, and she is confident the students will pass their FAA Remote Pilot and Advanced Ground Instruction tests because Gleim helped her prepare for her own test. The Gleim “Red Books” are a great resource for the students because “they are concise and easy to read, which is great for the classroom,” she says.
For the town of Cross City, the citizens are grateful for her program at Dixie County High School. She is providing the students various pathways to a successful career. Students who are 16 and younger are preparing for certification in Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), more commonly known as drones. A future project for Michele involves bringing in an engine for students to explore, and she is currently looking for opportunities to make this possible. Michele says, “I am also working on adding more opportunities for students interested in pursuing a future in Airframe and/or Powerplant (A & P) mechanics certification.”
The future of aviation looks bright in Dixie County. Since Michele has been there, students are seeing a future outside of the local offerings in Dixie County, and those involved in leadership in Dixie County are excited for this. Carole West, the director of the Education Foundation of Dixie County could not be happier that Michele has decided to stay in Dixie County. They see a future for their students with Michele at the helm of the Aviation Program. Gleim could not agree more!
Guided by her commitment to hands-on STEM education, Michele Burke is a model aviation teacher. The abstract concepts become concrete for her students because she has them engaged in projects that require students to critically think and problem solve. We are excited to feature Michele’s classroom as Gleim celebrates all teachers. For more information on how to enrich your classroom with STEM materials, check out the Gleim STEM Hub where you can find free resources and a forum to connect with model aviation teachers like Michele.
Written by: Maureen Shankman, Gleim STEM Aviation Coordinator