When students are taking classes beginning this August at Helix Aviation Academy, a regular part of the school day will be seeing airplanes coming and going from the Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport next door. In fact, this direct exposure to air travel will be a core component of students’ educational experience at the academy.
“We are the only aviation academy in the entire country that is actually on an airport,” said Preston Castille, president of Helix Community Schools. “There is a 10,000 square foot hanger right on our campus. Our students will be getting exposure that they would not be able to get anywhere else in the United States.”
Helix Aviation Academy will open this year for 120 sixth-grade students. Additional grade levels will be added each year until the 2027-2028 school year, when the academy will become a complete K-12 school.
The aviation academy was developed as an extension of the successful Air Force Junior ROTC program at Helix Mentorship STEAM Academy, which includes about 130 cadets. Lt. Col. Jerry Brandon (Retired), who leads the program, said he began to notice the enthusiasm students had when visiting sites like Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi.
“It started changing their mindset about what aviation is all about,” Brandon said. “With our new aviation academy, students will have the opportunity to see these planes up close and talk to industry experts. It’s not only something they see on TV or from a distance anymore.”
One of the main goals of the academy is to prepare students for careers in aviation and cybertechnology, both of which are experiencing a labor shortage for multiple positions. But there will also be a focus on helping students build character and soft skills that can be applied in any field.
“We are an aviation school, but the skills learned through application-based learning are essential for students to be successful in any career. Our curriculum ensures the development of problem-solving skills, critical thinking skills and promotes innovation,” said Charita Sellers, the founding principal of Helix Aviation Academy. “We are a school for all kids.”
Sellers said the academy will have a rigorous Tier One curriculum for all students. Project Lead The Way, a national model for STEM education, will be used in classes to teach students foundational skills in science, technology, engineering and math. Courses with a heavy aviation focus will be taught using materials and guidelines from Aerospace Connections in Education and the Federal Aviation Administration.
Students will not only be exposed to the wide world of aviation, but also to cybersecurity. Most of the technology used in aircraft is cyber-enabled; therefore, school leaders saw the necessity to add a cyber component. Students will gain significant exposure to cybersecurity through a curriculum created by Cyber Org, a national cybersecurity workforce development organization that targets K-12 students with cyber career awareness.
“The students will learn the science and math concepts that are behind aviation,” Sellers said. “They’ll also be able to speak with industry professionals and really understand the ins and outs of those careers. From an early age, they will learn the skills and concepts they need to know and understand to be a leader in those fields.”
Sellers said that thanks to Helix Aviation Academy’s strong partnerships with the Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport, Garver Engineering, Johnson Training Institute and others, students will have many opportunities to interact with industry professionals and learn more about potential careers. Castille noted that because of a partnership with Baton Rouge Community College, academy students will have opportunities to earn certifications in aviation maintenance, as well as college credits or even an associate’s degree upon graduation from high school.
“We want our kids to become exposed to aviation at an early age so it becomes part of a lifestyle for them,” Brandon said. “They will know the terminology and various aspects of aviation starting early on so that it won’t be intimidating to them later.”
Applications for Helix Aviation Academy are now being accepted at www.enrollbr.org. Transportation will be provided for students who live in East Baton Rouge Parish.
“We are really looking to create a community-design school,” Sellers said. “From day one, we have invited parents to our school design sessions to present ideas about different programs and components we want to add. We allow them to give feedback and suggestions. We really are a school where parents and students have a voice beginning on day one.”