When Hayden Kerin finishes his work for the day, he can literally watch his success soar.
The Fairhope High School senior spends half of each school day tinkering with instrumentation and learning about aircraft systems. A good day in the classroom means a great day on the tarmac.
“I was always interested in airplanes. I thought it would be interesting and fun,” he said of the classes. “When we see something we do flying, it’s very rewarding,” Kerin said.
Kerin is one of 31 students who have committed to spending half a day in high school and half in college courses through Baldwin County School’s Fairhope Academy program at the Fairhope Airport. Launched in 2015, the partnership with Coastal Alabama Community College allows Baldwin County high school students to complete the majority of classes needed to earn an associate in applied science degree in airframe technology.
Students who begin the program in tenth grade will complete seven of the nine AMT courses needed for airframe certification. The early entry saves students $900 per course, a cost they would pay if they waited until freshman year of college to enroll.
Not only do they graduate high school with their college certification nearly finished, but the students are also prepared to sit for the Federal Aviation Administration’s exam for certification as an aviation maintenance technician with airframe endorsement.
Because aircraft maintenance is a federally mandated job, requiring federal licensing and oversight, industry professionals have the opportunity to earn more and explore jobs across the planet. Aircraft registered in the U.S. can only be serviced by mechanics licensed in the U.S. Meaning there are jobs in every country that American planes land in.
“This program gives these kids such an enormous head start,” said Ken Callais, an Academy instructor with Coastal Alabama Community College. “When they do well here, they progress quickly down that career path.”
Senior Margo Wages, of Daphne High School, is an example of what is possible for Academy graduates. She will begin work with CAS Aircraft Maintenance in Mobile as an aircraft component mechanic immediately after graduation, earning two to three times as much as her classmates will working typical summer jobs.
As one of the few female students in the program Wages is not just launching her career, she’s also clearing the runway for future Academy female students.
Eleventh grader Olivia Johnson, of Elberta High School, said younger students look up to those like Wages and strive to succeed the same way they have.
“It’s amazing to see girls and guys have the same opportunities here and treat each other equally,” Johnson said.
Johnson said female students considering the program shouldn’t hesitate to enter what is traditionally a male dominated field. She even pointed out that female mechanics have a slight advantage over their male counterparts because their smaller hands make intricate work easier.
“If you see an opportunity, you should take it. As long as you’re willing to learn about it, you can do it,” she said.