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Grant Helps Ribault Aviation Program Take Flight

Lindsey Kilbride

Some Ribault High School students will be flying planes before they graduate — that’s the idea behind a new aviation academy at the school, supported by a $300,000 grant from JPMorgan Chase.

The academy will allow students to earn industry certifications and let them choose whether to go straight into the workforce or take a guaranteed spot in a Jacksonville University aeronautics program.

School Board member Paula Wright represents Ribault. She says this program will give minority students opportunity in a field that lacks diversity. And they’ll learn from a black pilot.

Credit Lindsey Kilbride / WJCT News
School Board member Paula Wright talks Ribault's new aviation academy.

“For African Americans and someone who was a part of integration in Duval County, it’s everything,” Wright said. “Because if you’re in an environment when you don’t see yourself, then you often question yourself, you often doubt yourself and you often put more burden on yourself emotionally in terms of, ‘Can I do it?’ So, to see African-Americans is huge because you can become who you see.”

Duval Superintendent Nikolai Vitti says aviation is one of the top five emerging industries in Northeast Florida. And students can benefit from the STEM-focused program even if they choose a career in another field, he says.

“They can move into entrepreneurship, they can move into business leader opportunities,” Vitti said, “or just more basic engineering because of the math and science that’s naturally involved in the courses that they’ll take.”

Vitti says simulators will be installed in classrooms and by graduation, students will be behind the controls of a real plane. And he hopes the program will help retain students at Ribault and the middle and elementary schools that feed into it. Presently, around 25 freshmen have already started the program, and eighth-graders at Ribault Middle School are taking classes to prep for the program.

Lindsey Kilbride was WJCT's special projects producer until Aug. 28, 2020. She reported, hosted and produced podcasts like Odd Ball, for which she was honored with a statewide award from the Associated Press, as well as What It's Like. She also produced VOIDCAST, hosted by Void magazine's Matt Shaw, and the ADAPT podcast, hosted by WJCT's Brendan Rivers.