Spotlight on Denbigh Aviation Academy

Students are “PRIMEd” and ready to take off…

The SME Education Foundation is excited to announce that students at Denbigh Aviation Academy in Newport News, Virginia, are building a full-sized, 750-pound, two-seat aircraft. At the culmination of the project, they are planning to take this student-built aircraft to the skies! The Aviation Academy is a four-year, high school program in Newport News Public Schools, located behind the Newport News-Williamsburg International Airport. Learners focus on careers in aviation, electronics, engineering and technology. “We are able to get real world experience and it ties in with aerospace manufacturing/engineering. It’s a good thing because the fields are lucrative and growing,” says Laura Prox, a junior at the Denbigh Aviation Academy.  


In 2014, the Aviation Academy was selected for PRIME® (Partnership Response in Manufacturing Education) designation through the SME Education Foundation. PRIME® is an educational initiative designed to bring together organizations, businesses and exemplary high schools in a community-based, partnered approach to advanced manufacturing/STEM education. Through PRIME®, the SME Education Foundation provides the conduit to engage students, teachers and schools in the real world of industry and business. According to Josh Cramer, senior educational program officer for the SME Education Foundation, “Bridging these opportunities from schools and industry is essential to create awareness and to invigorate young innovators, entrepreneurs and thinkers. “ This holistic approach of partnership provides the scaffolding for students to reach new heights, while paving pathways for volunteerism, community engagement and visibility. “Denbigh High School’s Aviation Academy is an exemplary example of the Foundation’s PRIME® program; the administrators, instructors, students and partners are an inspiration to the manufacturing education/STEM community,” comments Cramer.

As one of the first sites on the East Coast to partner with Eagle’s Nest Projects (an organization that donates the plane kits to schools to build these aircrafts), students can immerse themselves into the manufacturing and aviation sector. This project has been ongoing since the start of the school year and continues to be a driving force in the classroom today. An elite team of 30 students have completed the fuselage and tail sections, and “They’re way ahead of schedule,” comments aviation teacher, Terri Sanchez. These students demonstrate an authentic example of manufacturing brought to life in the classroom. Students are assigned roles from management to labor based upon their coursework and experience. They are learning and employing fastening systems and procedures that can be found at any aviation assembly facility. Using the materials, reading the blueprints and drawings, and understanding principles in assembly outline just some other talents the students gain. Throughout the process, some of the “soft skills” also emerge such as teamwork, communication and problem solving.

Some instructors and students demonstrate such passion for this project that they find themselves staying after school on Thursdays and even coming in on Saturdays to put in “overtime.” Aaron Smith, PhD, program director at the Aviation Academy, commented, “We are truly fortunate to have this project on our campus. Thanks to the Eagle’s Nest, our students are able to apply STEM and also learn other valuable concepts such as riveting in the aviation field. The PRIME® designation from the SME Education Foundation is going to accelerate learning in our classes from core to aviation. It is going to allow us to expand from the typical questions to more complex questions that will enable the teachers to shift the discussion and lesson to student-centered activities. In turn, we will be able to produce highly productive employees, which will benefit both communities and industry.”