BENTONVILLE -- Administrators want to expand the School District's Ignite Professional Studies program to include dozens of additional students and provide training in aviation.
Ignite gives high school juniors and seniors a chance to explore specific career fields in which there is high demand for workers. Students build relationships with mentors in their chosen field and gain valuable professional skills and entrepreneurial habits, according to Ignite director Teresa Hudson.
The program began in 2015 with 16 students in a single career "strand" -- technology -- and since then has grown to eight strands that enrolled a combined 342 students as of August. Students from both Bentonville and West high schools participate.
An Ignite class takes up the equivalent of three regular class periods of a student's day.
Health sciences and construction management are two of the most popular strands.
Hudson, during a presentation to the School Board at its work session Thursday, outlined a plan not only to boost the enrollment capacity for those two strands, but to create a new one dedicated to aviation.
All together, the plan calls for adding $162,500 in personnel costs for the 2022-23 school year and spending about $397,000 on new equipment, according to Hudson's presentation.
The plan will be presented to the board for approval at its next meeting on Feb. 15, Superintendent Debbie Jones said.
Health and construction
In 2021, 89 students were accepted to the health sciences strand, while more than 100 students were placed on a wait list for it, Hudson said.
The administration's plan is to add a full-time instructor for the 2022-23 school year, which would allow a total of 110 students to participate in health sciences. Another part-time instructor would be added for the 2023-24 school year, which would boost the strand's enrollment capacity to 135, Hudson said.
The additional full-time instructor would cost the district $65,000. The part-time instructor would cost $32,500, Hudson said.
Some renovation would be necessary at the Ignite building on North Walton Boulevard to accommodate a third medical classroom. District documents show cost estimates for two different renovation options listed at $74,500 and $98,500.
Administrators also plan to expand the construction management strand to include industrial maintenance training.
Equipment would be acquired to train students in areas such as electrical systems, motor control systems, hydraulics maintenance, pneumatics and CNC machining. Hudson pegged the equipment cost at about $240,000.
More than 3,300 positions in these types of jobs were open in the region as of December, according to the Northwest Arkansas Council.
"So it is in high demand and we hear it at every workforce meeting that we go to," Hudson said.
To wrap industrial maintenance into the construction management strand, administrators would like to add one full-time instructor next school year, at a cost of $65,000. With that, up to 45 additional students could be accepted into the strand, Hudson said.
Ignite's construction management students meet at a building adjacent to Washington Junior High School. Administrators are also looking at expanding that building, a project estimated to cost $1.5 million.
Hudson told the board that two years ago, Ignite started offering students the chance to earn certification as a drone pilot. Ignite now has 25 licensed drone pilots, she said.
Richard Ham, an associate director at the University of Arkansas' College of Engineering, has been teaching the drone licensure course at Ignite. He addressed the board at its meeting Thursday.
Drones are used in a variety of fields and purposes. Walmart, for example, has begun using drones to deliver items to customers.
Individuals find all kinds of ways to make a living with a drone, Ham said. He noted a former student of his who bought a thermal drone and now uses it to do roof audits to locate where people are losing heat from their roof.
"Takes him about 10 minutes for each one," Ham said. "He charges $250 a piece. People are happy to pay it."
Almost 20% of the export value that leaves the state is related to aerospace, Ham told the board. Much of that work is focused in Little Rock, but it's moving to Northwest Arkansas rapidly, he said.
There is a shortage of thousands of workers in the industry, Ham said.
Job opportunities in the field go beyond being a pilot. There's a need for air traffic controllers, aircraft mechanics, air field operations workers and more, according to Hudson and Ham.
The aviation community has asked the School District for the past several years about dedicating resources to aviation education, Hudson said.
Summit Aviation, the fixed-base operator at the municipal airport, has pledged its support by offering Ignite space in one of its facilities for the aviation strand once it's launched.
"Whatever they can do, they said, 'We're here, we're willing to help, we want to get this thing started,'" Hudson said about Summit.
The plan is to start the strand this fall with one instructor who would work part-time.
Students in the aviation strand would spend their first semester getting their drone pilot license. The second semester, students would dive into specific areas of interest within the aviation field, Hudson said.
Hudson estimated equipment costs for the program to be $125,000, mainly for things like drones and simulators.
Students in the Bentonville School District’s Ignite program can participate in one of eight career “strands”: construction management, culinary arts, digital design and photography, education innovation, global business, health sciences, technology and video production.
Here is Ignite’s total enrollment as of each August for the past six years:
Source: Bentonville School District