Ryan Cowell, C0-Founder of Soaring Sky, (R) handles the controls as he demonstrates drone flight to students in Karen Cowell's Engineering Applications class at Castaic Middle School. Tom Cruze/For the Signal
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Behind the walls of a Castaic Middle School classroom, students fumbled with propellers, simulated a drone taking flight and discussed the implications of the new technology in society.

It was all part of the school’s newest Drone Education and Technology Program, which includes a semester-long engineering applications class that is the first of its kind in the Santa Clarita Valley.

“This is something fun, something unique, something the students want to be a part of,” Castaic Middle School Principal Bob Brauneisen said.  “This fits into the interest level of the kids.”

Ryan Cowell, C0-Founder of Soaring Sky, (L) assists as student Nicholas Serrano in Karen Cowell's Engineering Applications class performs a pre-flight check list to get ready for flight. Tom Cruze/For the Signal
Ryan Cowell, C0-Founder of Soaring Sky, (L) assists as student Nicholas Serrano in Karen Cowell’s Engineering Applications class performs a pre-flight check list to get ready for flight. Tom Cruze/For the Signal

Spearheaded by Castaic Middle School Teacher Karen Cowell, the program takes education to new heights by teaching students the basics of engineering and programming, and sparking their interest in industrial career paths.

“What I hope they learn and take away from this is not only rules and regulations, but also possibilities for their future whether it’s piloting, engineering, technology or problem solving,” Cowell said.  “It’s a window into so many career opportunities they can investigate in high school.”

The class uses a STEM-based curriculum developed by Soaring Sky, a Southwest Florida commercial drone company that was co-founded by Ryan Cowell, a former Castaic Middle School student and Karen Cowell’s son.

“Our mission is to make a positive impact on the world with drone technology and it really starts with education,” Ryan Cowell said.  “This is one of the most rewarding divisions of our company and I get so inspired when I see this kids working with the drones.”

Ryan Cowell said Soaring Sky took a year to develop the structured curriculum with award-winning teachers and professional drone pilots at a Florida high school before bringing it to Castaic Middle School.

“All these kids are learning skills that give them real world experience so even if they don’t go into the drone industry, they can use some of this stuff in other applications in life,” he said.

Lizbeth Platas (L), Nicholas Serrano (C) and Kyle Gordon (R), students in Karen Cowell's Engineering Applications class at Castaic Middle School, watch as Ryan Cowell, (wearing hat) Co-Founder of Soaring Sky, demonstrates flying a drone. Tom Cruze/For the Signal
Lizbeth Platas (L), Nicholas Serrano (C) and Kyle Gordon (R), students in Karen Cowell’s Engineering Applications class at Castaic Middle School, watch as Ryan Cowell, (wearing hat) Co-Founder of Soaring Sky, demonstrates flying a drone. Tom Cruze/For the Signal

In addition to the STEM elements of the curriculum, Karen Cowell educated her students on the practical applications of drone technology, the history of drones and the fundamentals of JavaScript coding.

“The coding is something I added because I thought students needed to understand that drones are programmed,” Karen Cowell said.  “They aren’t doing block coding… they are writing code.”

Middle school students Bella Kenney and Kassidy Croveth, who became friends through the class, both said the JavaScript coding was their favorite part of the course thus far.

“The coding was a challenge, but it was also fun,” Croveth said.

“I thought it was cool because we started with coding and that was fun because you can program the drones to do anything you want,” Kenney said.  “I’m going to want to the advanced class in high school.”

Students in Karen Cowell's Engineering Applications class at Castaic Middle School watch as Ryan Cowell, co-founder of Soaring Sky, flies a drone during a drone technology class. Tom Cruze/For the Signal
Students in Karen Cowell’s Engineering Applications class at Castaic Middle School watch as Ryan Cowell, co-founder of Soaring Sky, flies a drone during a drone technology class. Tom Cruze/For the Signal

Another student Brandon McLean said he is looking forward to building and designing his own drone to fly.

In the future, Principal Brauneisen said he hopes high schools implement comparable programs so students can pursue the “mini career path” and take advanced courses on drone technology.

“My goal is to try to get my neighboring high schools to start something similar so they start here and then continue the program later on,” he said.

The program also has plans for expansion with an increased parent interest and an additional class being held in the spring semester.

“I feel like we are on the cutting edge now,” Karen Cowell said.  “It’s exciting.”

ccox@signalscv.com
661-287-5575
On Twitter as @_ChristinaCox_

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Christina Cox
Christina Cox is a multimedia journalist covering education, community and breaking news in the Santa Clarita Valley. She joined The Signal as a staff writer in August 2016.
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