Alabama Aviation and Aerospace High School will open its doors for the first time on August 28.
Founder Reuben Morris says the charter school already has 75 students enrolled in its inaugural class and is on its way to filling all 130 available slots for incoming freshmen. Classes will begin at the former Bessemer High School – currently owned by the Foundation of Life Ministries – location this fall, and later this year, they will break ground on a new 60,000-square-foot facility at Bessemer Municipal Airport.
This school is the only school of its kind in America. With each new class arriving, the school aims to enroll a total of 500 when it reaches its potential.
Most of the students enrolled so far are from the Bessemer and McCalla area, although some will come from other parts of Alabama. Morris says students will come from as far away as Columbiana, Pelham and Trussville. Many of these students learned about the school through Tower Talk, in person or via Zoom. Morris has taken those talks to the entire metro area, which includes Hoover and Pelham. Morris says that many of his students also learn about the school through social media.
“Once word got out there was a STEM-focused aerospace and aviation high school in the area that appeals to a particular kind of child,” Morris said. “Maybe they’re into drones or they want to be a pilot. Or maybe they like math and science. We have parents who are willing to travel to get their kids here, mainly because it’s free. We love a lot.” Some are looking for kids who were either homeschooled or paying for private school to enroll.”
Morris has partnered with a number of local businesses, including Amazon, that will give students access to Engineer the Amazon Future, a four-part, early childhood-to-career program aimed at hundreds of thousands of underrepresented and underserved communities each year. To motivate and educate the students. To attempt computer science and coding.
“Amazon is the largest company that does business in Bessemer,” Morris said. “Partnering with Amazon was important to us, but it was equally important to them. They are thrilled about our school; thrilled about the opportunity; thrilled with how they can connect within the community “
Giving students the opportunity to advance without leaving their community is important to Morris as he was one of those students. When he was a kid, he dreamed of flying F15s and retiring as a Delta pilot. He never had the resources to achieve those goals, so he dreamed of building a school that could provide children with opportunities they had never been given.
“I graduated from Shades Valley and said I was never going to come back to Alabama,” he said. “But I’m here because I believe in the state of Alabama. I believe in the region. I’m committed to putting my talent here and creating more opportunities and jobs here. This school is without apology, ‘Bessemer First’ ‘ Is.” And we will remain that way.”
A partnership has also been secured with Republic Airways, a regional carrier that flies to Delta, American Airlines and United Airlines. The airline will serve as the title sponsor for the school’s summer camps beginning in June.
The school already has relationships with the Marion Military Institute and the School of Aviation at Auburn University that will allow students to potentially further their education beyond high school. But the curriculum prepares students for everything from obtaining their commercial pilot license to becoming a technician without having to attend four years of college.
“All four of our CTE pathways lead to either industry-recognized credentialing or college credits,” Morris said. “Our students – depending on which route they take – will have the skills needed to go into the military, to go on to further flight training by becoming a flight instructor or pursuing a commercial pilot’s license, or they may go on to four We have partnered with Tuskegee, UAB and Auburn for kids who want to further study aerospace engineering or computer science.”
Graduates will also be equipped to enter the workforce immediately if they so choose. Through partnerships like Amazon, graduates can be certified for cybersecurity jobs right out of high school. They can also take apprenticeship programs within airplane maintenance. Such choices are an important step towards making the educational experience of every student valuable.
“We’ve been throwing money at education for a generation, and we’re not always getting a good return on that investment,” Morris said. “Most students aren’t going to finish college. There are a lot of people who go and don’t finish. And we know what’s up with inflation — the cost of a four-year degree is really, really expensive. I think we’re realizing that specific education – whether it’s a welder or a plumber or an aircraft maintenance technician has real value and can earn life-changing wealth opportunities. It’s important to allow kids to have choices . ”
As the school nears its opening date, the success of the people of Bessemer is a top priority for Morris. At the time of the school’s conception, he went to Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport. While the airport loved the idea, Birmingham City Schools would not approve of the charter school. Morris says Bessemer Municipal Airport was already looking for a viable education option, and the school was welcomed with open arms.
“Now that others are starting to see what has always been here, it is important for us to protect and cultivate what we have,” Morris said. “One of the biggest assets that Bessemer has is the community and the people. There have always been great educational options here, we’re just expanding that ecosystem.”
To learn more about Alabama Aerospace and Aviation High School, visit alaahs.org.