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Woodlake High School Assistant Principal Rudy Cardona and Lucky Oldfield, president of the Woodlake Chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association, discuss a flight simulator. Woodlake High School was recently awarded $100,000 from the Rural Tech Project for a proposal to create an aviation program.

Rural school receives $100,000 award for aviation program

Proposal was a finalist in national Rural Tech Project

February 15, 2021
The U.S. Department of Education has recently named Woodlake High School as a finalist for their submission to the Rural Tech Project, a national initiative to advance technology education, support rural educators, and prepare students for the careers of today and tomorrow.
The Tulare County high school was one of five schools nationwide recognized for the first phase of the tech project and received a cash award of $100,000.
Woodlake High School designed an online aviation program for the tech project that will prepare students for regional careers or post-secondary degrees. Students will learn drone operations, geometry, and aerodynamic principles and apply that knowledge through in-person drone flights and simulator work.
“Woodlake High School’s motto is Creating Pathways for Success, and we entered this contest since its goals directly align with our mission,” said Woodlake Principal Mike Burchett. “We have several successful CTE pathways that have helped increasing numbers of our students graduate college and career-ready.

However, as many of us know, in rural high schools it is often difficult to connect students with the applicability of math and other STEM subjects, and we were looking for a pathway that could excite students in those fields.”
Burchett came across the Rural Tech Project and asked Woodlake High School Assistant Principal Rudy Cardona if he had any ideas for a proposal. Cardona came up with the aviation idea and put together a robust proposal with assistance from Burchett and Coordinator of College and Career Programs Carmita Pena.
“This project enables unique student engagement to boost learning while preparing students for their next steps after high school,” Cardona said. “Students will learn in-demand, transferable math and physics skills, and apply that knowledge through flight simulator, mechanical and electronics work.”
“This pathway is directly in line with the labor market and economic trends of our geographic area. Aviation has played a large role in agriculture, fire-fighting, air transportation and first responder support in our valley.”
— Rudy Cardona, Assistant principal, Woodlake High School
Woodlake High School will fulfill this program by establishing California A-G college prep courses that also align with the California Career Tech Education Aviation Pathway. The school is currently pursuing various avenues to also offer recognized certification in this area of work.
“This pathway is directly in line with the labor market and economic trends of our geographic area. Aviation has played a large role in agriculture, fire-fighting, air transportation and first responder support in our valley where the need continues to grow for our students to enter STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math)-related professions,” Cardona said. “We and our amazing community are excited about this opportunity and are committed to helping students find relevance and inspiration in their learning.”
Burchett added: “With 62 high schools from 34 states submitting applications, it is an honor and a privilege to be selected as a finalist. This award will be used to directly implement this pathway and positively affect student outcomes.”
Submissions for the project were collected from June to October. During that time period, the U.S. Department of Education invited rural high schools and local educational agencies to propose technology education programs that use competency-based distance learning. Entrants proposed programs focusing on a range of technology skills — from computer science and cybersecurity to robotics and aviation.
Woodlake High and the other four finalist teams were recommended by a judging panel that included experts from the Austin Peay State University Center for Rural Education, Ford Next Generation Learning, The Franklin Institute, IBM, Pine Springs Preparatory Academy and the University of Arkansas.
During Phase 2 of the challenge, from January to July 2021, the finalist teams will develop detailed program plans and build partnerships before programs launch. The Rural Tech Project will provide assistance, expert mentorship, and access to virtual resources as teams plan, run and refine their programs for two academic years. Each finalist team will be supported by a community engagement manager who will assist with on-the-ground setup, implementation and evaluation of the program. The teams will document their outcomes and learnings in a final submission in summer 2023, with one team receiving a grand prize of an additional $100,000.
More information can be found on the Rural Tech Project website at
Mike Burchett and Rudy Cardona discuss curriculum and timeline for the school launching a new aviation career pathway, thanks to funding from the Rural Tech Project, which recently awarded $100,000 to the school.
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