The traditional thought about vocational education is this: Train students for the industry in the community.
“People often come to us as a region and say, you need to align the educational program to existing industry,” said Paul Green, Appalachian Technology Initiative lead for the Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative. “That’s good in Lexington, but in Knott County, there’s not much industry. We have to anticipate what could be an industry in Knott County.”
Green uses Knott County as an example of the KVEC region because that area could be the nexus of new career fields surrounding the drone industry in eastern Kentucky. KVEC is a partner in USA Drone Port, which has plans for a drone research facility on donated land at a former mountaintop mining site at the Knott/Perry county line.
USA Drone Port has applied to the federal government to become an FAA-designated drone test area; the region would be one of five such areas in the U.S., Green said.
Keisha Wilson, 16, a junior at Knott Central High School, practices flying a drone at the Kentucky Valley Educational Co-op in Hazard.
With those prospects in mind, KVEC is developing programs to expose students in participating school districts to potential jobs around that industry.
“We live in an area with low economic development, so I think it’s hard to imagine what’s possible until you experience it,” said Angela Thornsberry, who teaches science and aviation classes at Knott Central High School. “I think that’s the best thing about these classes.”
The KVEC program started with aerospace engineering and aviation; the co-op worked to align its program with the aviation programs at Morehead State and Eastern Kentucky universities, Green said. Many students are interested in learning to fly, but the high cost per flight hour is often prohibitive, he said. So KVEC started to focus on the drone component.