How CTE soars on Wichita high schools’ aviation pathway

School district teamed up with industry to bring new career opportunities to students
By: | Issue: May 2020
April 13, 2020
A high school student in Wichita Public School works on a project in the district's aviation manufacturing CTE pathway. Administrators in the Kansas school system worked with the city’s airplane manufacturers to create the program.A high school student in Wichita Public School works on a project in the district's aviation manufacturing CTE pathway. Administrators in the Kansas school system worked with the city’s airplane manufacturers to create the program.
Alicia Thompson

Alicia Thompson

Wichita schools’ CTE program stepped up when the local aviation manufacturing industry was looking for qualified employees to help with the challenge of retaining talent.

Wichita Public Schools CTE graduates were eager to begin earning decent wages to support their families, while district leaders wanted to get students as young as elementary school thinking about their future careers.

So, industry and education teamed up in 2018 to develop an aviation manufacturing pathway that has resulted in Wichita Public Schools winning DA’s Districts of Distinction recognition program for this month.

“When the industry realized how many students we graduate in a year, we became a spotlight for them,” Superintendent Alicia Thompson says. “Our kids have become a potential workforce to drive the economy.”


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Creating aviation manufacturing momentum

The CTE pathway allows Wichita’s ninth-graders and 10th-graders to take foundational courses in airplane manufacturing to prepare them for advanced college-level training on WSU Tech’s National Center for Aviation Training campus during their junior and senior years.

These CTE programs, which include internships and job shadowing, allow students to graduate high school with technical certificates that qualify them for immediate employment in the aviation industry.

Wichita Public Schools

  • Wichita, Kansas
  • District size: 49,851
  • Superintendent: Alicia Thompson
  • Initiative launched: 2018-19

During the summer of 2019, 30 students worked as interns at Spirit AeroSystems and Textron Aviation. Twenty-five eventually accepted jobs at Textron.
Textron also offered externships to two district CTE teachers and six counselors.

The partnership is crucial because the school district cannot afford to offer the advanced equipment, facilities and specialized instructors that WSU Tech and the manufacturers can provide students, Thompson says.


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Textron will also fund continuing education for graduates who become employees and want to learn more advanced skills and technology, she adds.

“This pathway has created momentum,” Thompson says. “Now everybody wants to engage with us because we’ve seen such success with the aviation industry.”

Expanding CTE pathways

Wichita’s pathway begins before high school.

The aviation pathway allows Wichita’s ninth-graders and 10th-graders to take foundational courses in airplane manufacturing to prepare them for advanced college-level training during their junior and senior years

The aviation pathway allows Wichita’s ninth-graders and 10th-graders to take foundational courses in airplane manufacturing to prepare them for advanced college-level training during their junior and senior years

Administrators and their industry partners have formed a CTE group called Dream Keepers that bring workplace simulations into the district’s middle and elementary schools.


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“Our industry partners mentor students by asking them if they liked the activities and telling our kids that they can do these professions and careers,” Thompson says. “It helps those kids make good choices about participating.”

How Wichita’s aviation pathway adds up

Regional retention problems

  • 18,000: Number of employees who have left the Wichita area in the last decade

Acting with urgency

  • 18-24 months: Time it typically takes Kansas’ Department of Education to approve a new CTE pathway
  • 6 months: Time it took Wichita Public Schools and its industry partners to get the aviation pathway approved

Career concentrations

  • 25: CTE pathways offered by Wichita Public Schools
  • 7: Number of career areas covered by pathways
  • 70%: Students taking at least one career pathway
  • 250: Students taking prerequisites for the aviation pathway when pilot launched in 2018-19
  • 310: Students enrolled when aviation program was fully adopted in 2019

School-to-work

  • 37: Offers of employment extended to students by Textron Aviation during the pilot year
  • 19: Students who are now Textron employees
  • 8: Externships Textron Aviation offered to district employees

To learn more, visit the Districts of Distinction page.