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Sandy Journal

There’s a buzz at Jordan: new drone program is soaring high

Dec 02, 2022 05:44PM ● By Julie Slama

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

High above a Jordan High football game, a drone was taking footage; it was being operated by senior Brayden Thacker.

“I got permission to use it at the football game last Friday night, so I was able to get some really cool shots,” said the student who loves video games, so he quickly adapted when he took the controls of a drone. “This is a really cool class. I’d love to get some shots with the entire valley and everything in the mountains if I was able to take it with me up hiking.”

This new class is unmanned aerial systems, or UAS, more commonly referred to as the drone class at Jordan.

“We get to fly most of the days, so there’s a lot of hands-on experience. We’ve learned about drones—how they work, aviation stuff like fixed wings; roll, pitch and yaw; and we go over drag, lift, weight. We know where it's safe to fly because there’s controlled airspace above 400 feet,” Thacker said. “I’ve been considering a career using a drone ever since I started this class, maybe in movie film or wedding photography. It's fun and it pays really well. There are so many jobs using drones like contracting for real estate or even, searching inside buildings that are damaged, so someone doesn’t have to go in there if it were to collapse. First, we have to get our license, so this class is preparing us for a big state test we can take at the end of the semester to get certified.”

Junior Carter Evans, who is in the class, wants to be a meteorologist.

“I can see how that could benefit from drones,” he said. “With storm chasing, if you had a really strong drone that could resist some serious wind, you could fly it near a tornado instead of having a person out there to video, which doesn't seem like a great option. It definitely could be used with satellite imagery.”

Evans has taken a TV broadcasting class and was an anchor on the school broadcast team and was getting footage with a drone.

“I was asked to help make a video for the class, so I've been filming the other kids in here fly their drones,” he said. “It’s been a great opportunity to tie what I’ve learned together. I had an empty space in my schedule and my counselor offered it, so I said, ‘Why not?’ So far, I haven't regretted that.”

During the concurrent course where students, mostly juniors and seniors can earn three college credits, they learn to fly three different kinds of drones—Holy Stones, Snaptains and DJIs. Thacker said that the drone he used has normal, sport and cinematic photography modes, with the latter having a built-in stabilizer that allows for a slower shot.

When there is inclement weather, they still can practice their skills. Within her classroom, teacher Leslie Vawdrey has set up an indoor obstacle course so students can learn how to maneuver the smaller drones, racing them through hula hoops and around pool noodles that are hung from the ceiling.

Vawdrey is new to Jordan High and to drones after teaching at three other high schools the past 17 years.

“I was teaching filmmaking and the state curriculum changed to include drones in it, so this past summer, I went to Utah State University because of their amazing aviation program and learned about drones and took the part of the 107 pilot's license for UAS (unmanned aerial system),” she said.

Vawdrey was sharing this story at a baby shower when a woman sitting next to her asked her a question: “Would you be interested in teaching a drone class?"

That woman was Dina Kohler, who then was Jordan High’s assistant principal.

“I was looking around for someone and here she was, qualified and sitting next to me, talking about it,” Kohler said. “I gave her my phone number and how to apply for the position. Bruce (Eschler, Jordan High principal) is really pushing CTE (career and technical education) because it brings those skills that those kiddos need, whether they go on to college or not. So, I was excited once she was hired that we’d be able to start this program with CTE funding.”

Vawdrey started with the basics.

“We started with safety because the blades can be very dangerous. Then we learned the different ways that they fly, yaw and trimming and the terminology of flight like forward thrust, vertical thrust, the difference between airplanes and drones, how airplanes and helicopters fly differently. And the history and the future of drones,” she said.

Vawdrey teaches three sections of the class; each has 20 students, matching the number of drones she has in her classroom sets. USU provided “a roadmap of what they want us to follow, but we kind of do our own research and kind of tweak the lessons, bring in some engineering, and make them a little more engaging. We have kids of different levels. Some are starting out and are excited about it. Some are learning hand-eye coordination, but they’re doing great. Others are more advanced and own their own drones. Some kids are also in the new electronics class I teach because they want to be able to repair their drones if they break or anything goes wrong,” she said.

Vawdrey is happy with her move.

“The school has been amazing to set up this program. I'm teaching them piloting and the rules to safely fly them their space. It's almost like a mini pilot class where they have the chance to go and fly above the soccer field,” she said.

Recently, the three class sections were able to fly around campus, documenting items, such as a flagpole, a flower, a goalpost, a stop sign, a speed bump and others that were on a scavenger hunt. 

“We had to find a bird which was really annoying because they’re flying like the drone, right? I lucked out and found one in a bush,” Evans said. “We were supposed to find a school bus, but no one could find the school bus at the time of our class because it wasn’t during pick-up or drop-off or a field trip.”

Vawdrey has more plans as the term goes on.

“We’re going to be editing too, because they’ll have all this flight footage, and with my film background, I’ll teach them Adobe Premiere Pro. Then, they edit the footage and put some music to it and can have it for a portfolio. When they graduate, they can say, ‘I can fly a drone, I can shoot this footage, I can edit it’ and have these skills, whether they’re college-bound or not, it will be beneficial,” she said.

Jordan CTE coordinator Heather Starley said with the initial interest shown in the drone class, she is hoping to add more classes in the upcoming years.

“With more of those concurrent enrollment classes, they can get more college credit and more training,” Starley said. “They’re having a great opportunity to pilot the drones, learn how to fix them if they get damaged, film and edit using the drones’ cameras and all those skills. It’s part of the aviation pathway and we’ve made those college connections, so it’s a great opportunity for our students to learn this and go out to work or continue onto college.”