Today, the U.S. Department of Education announced Woodlake High School as the grand-prize winner in the Rural Tech Project, a $600,000 challenge to advance technology education and prepare students for the careers of today and tomorrow. Dr. Amy Loyd, Assistant Secretary for the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education, announced the winner at the Unlocking Pathways Summit in Biloxi, Mississippi. Woodlake will receive an additional $100,000 prize to continue expanding its newest technology education program — an aviation pathway to prepare students for regional aviation careers and postsecondary education.
Students in Woodlake’s Aviation Pathway learn geometry, aerodynamic principles, and drone operations, and earn industry certifications and college credits. The coursework emphasizes project-based learning, as students use flight simulators and work in “flight crews” to accomplish missions. They can earn OSHA 10 certifications and receive aviation certificates, such as an FAA drone operator license. Select students participate in a paid internship program with Benson Aviation, immediately connecting skills from their coursework to real-world applications. Aviation Pathway students are also achieving higher math grades than the average grades in other sections of the school’s integrated math course.
“The program has opened up different opportunities to provide our students with more certifications and college credits to move forward with the next step after graduation and actually go out into the field and apply the skills that they’ve learned.”Jeannae Carmichael, Counselor at Woodlake High School
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How the challenge unfolded
In 2020, the Department invited high schools and local educational agencies to propose technology education programs that use competency-based distance learning. The challenge aimed to empower rural educators with the needed resources to teach their students transferable technology skills for rewarding career opportunities. The Rural Tech Project received 63 proposals from teams across 34 states. A judging panel recommended five finalist teams to progress to Phase 2 of the challenge. Each team received $100,000, virtual resources, and on-the-ground assistance to run their new programs for two academic years.
The finalist programs are all notably distinct, addressing the unique needs of their students and the economic demands of their local communities. They are readying their students for high-demand career pathways — from computer science, cybersecurity, and tech entrepreneurship to agricultural technology and aviation. In summer 2023, the five teams traveled to Washington, D.C., to present their programs at the White House. The judging panel then deliberated to recommend the grand-prize winner.
New resources for other communities
As the finalist teams look ahead to the sustainability and scaling of their programs, the Rural Tech Project has been working with them to compile their lessons learned. For each team, we have published a builder — a comprehensive guide covering program design, community engagement, evaluation, sustainability, and more. The builders offer considerations and resources for developing similar programs, with the goal of inspiring other communities to advance technology education in their schools.