Zach Luker, a junior at Mount Pleasant High School, gets help from his aviation instructor, Matt Bongers, rotating a propeller to turn the engine of a World War II era B-25 Bomber on Thursday. They were making sure there was no oil in the cylinders. Luker is the first student in the MPISD’s new aviation program through a partnership with the Mid America Flight Museum.
Mount Pleasant ISD has a lot to brag about when it comes to its Career and Technical Education program.
With February being CTE month, the district is flying high with its latest offering – hands-on aviation instruction through a partnership with the Mid America Flight Museum in Mount Pleasant.
Class size for the test run of the program is one. That lucky student is Zach Luker, a junior who has never been around planes before.
Luker, 16, said, despite that, he jumped at the chance to join the program.
“I’ve always thought planes were cool, so when our AP came to me and asked me if I was interested, I said, ‘Yes, Sir,’” Luker said. “It’s really interesting.”
Luker said both his parents are in the medical field and he has been on that same path, taking health science classes at MPISD, but now that he’s learning aviation, he’s considering it as a career.
“I originally thought about going in the medical field. I’m still thinking about that, but I don’t know now. I’ve got some thinking to do,” he said.
He started the program in January and will continue this summer with flying lessons at the museum located at the Mount Pleasant Regional Airport and then finish the program in his senior year.
The museum, which has a massive new hangar under construction that will be able to house 30 planes, is a collection by Mount Pleasant businessman Scott Glover, an aviation enthusiast who acquires vintage planes and restores them to their former flying glory.
“It’s just crazy how it all works. I’m used to going on vacation in huge planes. I didn’t even know planes like this were out there,” Luker said. “All these different types of aircraft from the military, it’s really interesting to learn where they’ve been and what they’ve done.”
Matt Bongers, the museum’s director of maintenance and operations, who learned to fly three years ago with Glover’s instruction and took career tech classes in his high school days, is Luker’s instructor. He said he’s been teaching him how to do compression checks on engines, the principles of how airplanes work and control services.
“He is starting fresh, but it’s neat to watch someone learn. I’ve been thankful to have those opportunities in my life and it’s great to be able to give someone else that same opportunity,” Bongers said.
The idea for the program was born last summer out of a casual conversation between CATE Director Jay Silman and Director of Student Services Brian McAdams.
“We were right beside the airport and we said, ‘Let’s just go over there,’” Silman said. “We met with Scott Glover and Matt Bongers a few times. They were open to the idea and we looked at the course sequence and we started with one student as a test run.”
McAdams said partnering with the airport and the Mid America Flight Museum is “a prime example of the commitment MPISD has demonstrated in providing unique opportunities for our students regardless of their interest.”
“Matt and Scott are great people and MPISD is certainly appreciative of their time and effort in this cooperative endeavor,” McAdams said.
MPISD Superintendent Judd Marshall said the opportunity for MPISD students to be involved with aviation is something that very few school districts are able to do.
“Our students will greatly benefit from their experiences at the airport, and we are excited for the chance to provide this to our students,” Marshall said.
Other new offerings this year are law enforcement dual credit courses and the addition of ag powers, which focuses on small engine repair, to the agriculture program.
The school hired Elizabeth Bailey, who has a master’s degree in criminal justice, to teach advanced level courses in the existing law enforcement program.
“We start with an introduction to criminal justice, covering the basics of courts and corrections and then transition to Crime in America, where it gets more in-depth into the sequences, but takes a more research approach,” Bailey said.
In ag powers, instructor Slatyr Hunnicutt said his students are in the shop every day.
“At the beginning of the year there were 10 boxes full of engine parts and the students put all those engines back together by themselves by the end of the six weeks,” he said. “It’s a big deal for these kids to be able to do hands-on stuff.”
Silman said the ag powers class will become a lead-in for the aviation program and will also be a transition for a farm practicum where students will be able to work on tractors at a local farm.
The school has also added to its Information Technology courses. They have started a new program through a partnership with Priefert Manufacturing to add hands-on IT training specific to Priefert’s specialized systems.
Silman said while a lot of school are reducing their career tech options, MPISD’s classes have been increasing in number and depth each year.
“I like to look and see what’s possible, even if we have to start small and move up from there,” he said.