Students learn to operate drones

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North East Carolina Prep School senior Jonathan Turner, 18, left, and CTE/social studies teacher Adam Molesky, right, watch as sophomore Matthew Williams, 17, flies the school's DJI Spark drone on Thursday at the school in Tarboro.


Staff Writer

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

TARBORO -— High school students at North East Carolina Preparatory School have the unique opportunity to study drones — also known as Unmanned Aircraft Systems — as an elective this year.

“As far as we know, North East Carolina Prep School is the only school in the state to offer drone technology as a course. SouthWest Edgecombe High School has students in their JROTC program who work with drones, but they don’t work with the Unmanned Safety Institute to offer college credit for the program,” said Adam Molesky, the instructor for the course.

Molesky also teaches social studies and other Career and Technical Education courses at the high school, but he had to take special training last summer to qualify as a teacher for this course.

This is far more than a week-long drone camp. Students attend the class every day for a year to study a course from the Unmanned Safety Institute, a recognized leader in flight safety solutions for individuals, academia and organizations focused on integrating and operating Unmanned Aircraft Systems for civil or commercial purposes.

This is the first year the course has been offered at the school. If students pass the end of course exam, they have the opportunity to gain college credit for it. They can take another test on their own to earn certification in drone operations.

“We are honored that North East Carolina Preparatory School has chosen USI’s STEM education curriculum to provide their students with a high-skill and high-wage career path into the rapidly evolving drone industry,” Josh Olds, president of the Unmanned Safety Institute, said in a press release. “NECP’s commitment to delivering stimulating curriculum to their students by arming them with industry-recognized USI certification will put them at the forefront of a competitive industry with limitless potential.”

If students complete four courses through the program, they can then enroll in USI’s Career Pathways Initiative, providing them with a direct link to employers that are looking for professional remote pilots, the release said.

Nine students are in the class this semester, including seven boys and two girls. This semester, the school purchased a DJI Spark Fly Combo drone for roughly $500. Last week, the students were taking the drone out for a spin after spending months of studying the whys and wherefores of drone technology.

Vlad Coppock, a senior at the school, plans to study engineering at the University of Mount Olive next year. He said he has some experience working with his own drone at home, but he is glad he was able to take the course in drone technology this year.

“We don’t just learn how to fly the drone,” Coppock said. “We learn about all the specialized parts of the drone and how they function.”

Jeremy Colmes, a ninth-grade student, said he wants to learn more about drones even after this introductory class is over.

“I took this class because I saw they were doing a drone class and I want to learn how to do drones and teach others how to work them,” he said. “I would also like to learn more how to build them someday.”

Phillip Lampron, principal of the high school at North East Carolina Prep, said he is delighted the school is able to offer the course as its latest STEAM offering.

“This was something we saw as an opportunity to expand our STEAM program that supports learning in science, technology, engineering, arts and math,” Lampron said. “We are trying to add a new STEAM elective to the high school program each year. Last year, we added a coding class and this year we added the drone course.”

Molesky sees the course as something that not only teaches principles of technology but also as a possible career path for the future. 

“Drones are being used in more and more fields from agriculture to delivery to military applications. There a growing number of jobs in this field, and these kids are preparing for it,” he said.