Education

These students are learning how to fly drones — and they’re only in middle school

Students learn how to fly drones

Florida Power & Light Company (FPL) partnered with After-School All-Stars South Florida to support the Discover Drones program, teaching low-income, at-risk middle school students a world of innovation and technology through drones.
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Florida Power & Light Company (FPL) partnered with After-School All-Stars South Florida to support the Discover Drones program, teaching low-income, at-risk middle school students a world of innovation and technology through drones.

Whirring sounds accompanied by the laughs and shrieks of kids filled the air as a drone flew overhead.

Nearly 10 years ago, only the military or police had this technology.

On Wednesday, students in the After-School All-Stars (ASAS) summer camp at Ruben Dario Middle School, 350 NW 97th Ave, flew mini-drones through hula hoops and over their school’s roof as part of a program called Discover Drones.

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Teacher Aida G. Talavera, left, holds hula hoops as Brandon Gutierre, 14, navigates a small drone through the two hoops and Alexandra DeJesus, 11, and Nicole Vera, 11, right, look on on Wednesday, July 24, 2019 at Ruben Dario Middle School. Florida Power & Light Company (FPL) partnered with After-School All-Stars South Florida to start the Discover Drones program, teaching low-income middle school students a world of innovation and technology. Carl Juste cjuste@miamiherald.com

Since June 10, more than 60 students have learned how to operate a drone and navigate obstacles through computer software. On Wednesday, the kids built their own drones and flew mini ones for the first time in the school’s recess court.

The program is a collaboration between ASAS South Florida and Florida Power & Light Company (FPL), which aims to expose youth to the world of innovation through technology. Students at Andover Middle School in Opa-locka and North Dade Middle School in Miami Gardens also tested the program.

“We want to immerse students in as many career possibilities as possible,” said Richard McKinley, senior program director of ASAS South Florida.

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Elsie Garcia, left, and Amanda Rivas, center, assist Ting Has Hu in building a drone. Florida Power & Light Company (FPL) partnered with After-School All-Stars South Florida to support the Discover Drones program, teaching low-income, at-risk middle school students a world of innovation and technology through drones on Wednesday, July 24, 2019, at Ruben Dario Middle School in Miami, Florida. Carl Juste cjuste@miamiherald.com

Before students worked in teams on their own, FPL drone specialist Heath McLemore explained how the company uses drones to prevent outages and restore power. The company flew drones around South Florida power lines to survey possible damage in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma in September 2017, keeping workers away from hazardous debris and mapping hard-to-reach sites.

McLemore also talked about evolving career prospects with the increased accessibility of drone tech. Ears perked up in the classroom when he noted that teens as young as 16 can become commercially certified drone pilots and work the company’s drones.

Brandon Gutierre, 14, was intrigued.

“I think I want to be a drone pilot now that I know I can in a couple years. Then, I’m thinking of going into the Air Force,” he said.

Amanda Rivas, 12, doesn’t have any plans to work in aviation or tech. She wants to be a lawyer and write her own children’s books. But she’s thinking of flying them for recreation in the future now that she knows how to work them.

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A drone built by middle school students at Ruben Dario School wait for its programming. Florida Power & Light Company and After-School All-Stars South Florida hosted the program, called Discover Drones, to teach middle school students a world of innovation and technology through drones on Wednesday, July 24, 2019 at Ruben Dario Middle School in Miami, Florida. Carl Juste cjuste@miamiherald.com

“I thought they were just used for fun. I didn’t know they were used for more serious jobs,” she said.

Given this year’s success, ASAS, which is a national organization that hosts academic and extra-curricular after-school programs for middle school students, is looking to expand in the future, according to McKinley.

“FPL has been a great partner and continually works with us to provide more opportunities for the students and families in our community,” he said.

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