BY JUDY SHERIDAN
Bell Helicopter went big announcing the company’s new partnership with Aledo ISD last Tuesday morning, noisily maneuvering a helicopter onto the football practice field as a throng of excited students and faculty stood by.
All eyes were fixed on the flat gray sky as the helicopter appeared on the horizon and hovered to a landing, rotors spinning and dust flying. Among those getting out were Superintendent Dr. Derek Citty and Franklin “Tom” Knight, Bell’s technical training manager, who shook hands.
The collaboration between the globally-recognized aerospace company and Aledo ISD — as well as with Dunbar, Eagle Mountain — Saginaw ISD and several others, according to Knight — is an effort to groom tomorrow’s work force.
“Bell is reaching out because we know you will be our future,” he told students who later surrounded him, peppering him with questions. “We don’t want to go to the east and west coasts to get laborers.”
Knight said the company would like to interject manufacturing skills into the secondary school curriculum, as well as build apprenticeship programs with Weatherford College and others.
That type of training, he said, will allow a student to “go get a job at any of our aviation facilities.”
The new coursework will target advanced math with practical applications, Knight told students, leading to a choice of three different tracks in the student’s junior year — engineering, advanced composites or CNC machining.
He did not name a figure when asked what the company planned to invest, but spoke of donating a machine to Tarrant County College and developing and installing software at Aledo High School.
“We’re reaching out to manufacturing companies and asking them to invest with us,” he said.
Vernon Anderson, a Bell employee and a member of the new Aledo ISD Education Foundation Board, worked with Knight on the initiative.
Anderson approached the school board with the idea in July, Citty said, and will now chair a Bell committee to get the program up and running in Aledo,
Anderson discussed how the district could access company resources through the partnership at the October board meeting.
He said Bell would equip students to participate in the Real World Design Challenge, a national competition that invites student teams to solve a real-world aeronautics problem.
“Those software programs are worth millions of dollars that I use, and we’re willing to give them to the school district for free to join this RWDC,” he told trustees.
Knight said Bell’s efforts coincide with — but are not coordinated with — House Bill 5, passed by the Texas Legislature in June, with implementation in 2014.
The bill expands graduation requirement options, allowing students to add classes that lead to technical careers instead of college.
Districts can also create “rigorous” courses — with the help of industries and community colleges — that both count toward graduation and help build a skilled workforce.
The bill will allow Aledo ISD to use Bell’s training curriculum to create a specific STEM — science, technology, engineering and math/manufacturing — degree track on the AHS main campus.
Executive Director of Curriculum Kathy Allen said the first new course the district will offer will be Concepts of Engineering, followed by Engineering Design and Presentation the second year, with the added benefit that the courses serve as prerequisites for robotics programs at Weatherford College.
Citty, impressed by a recent tour of Bell, said he appreciated Anderson’s input, calling him a “zealot for his company with a vision for our kids.”
“The Aledo ISD recognizes the importance of college-readiness and workforce development programs for our students including advanced learning in science, technology, engineering and math,” Citty said.
“Working with Bell Helicopter will elevate the students of Aledo ISD and offer them real-life experiences that are not offered in many districts across the country.”