Houston school shows how to capture the attention of prospective aviation students

sterling aviation high school
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Sterling Aviation High School

Thoughtful, Well Designed Aviation Programs & Building

Wouldn’t most teenage students be excited to attend a school with an entrance which resembles a runway and includes a 7,100 square feet hangar?

While many have lamented the expected shortage of pilots, mechanics and STEM educated, the Houston Independent School District has done something that is working.

First, it began with a Sterling pilot program about 10 years ago and gradually added an aviation mechanic program last year. About 200 students are enrolled in both aviation programs this year. The school’s magnet aviation programs are available to students district-wide.

sterling aviation high school

Other schools in Iowa, Nevada, New York City, Michigan, Massachusetts and Ohio offer aviation technical schools at regional airports. Houston decided to build on Sterling’s success and add two airplane hangars.

The Houston ISD issued a bond for the renovation or rebuilding of 40 schools, including 29 high schools. Replacing the 1965 Sterling brick building is a new 237,000-square-foot campus, which can serve about 1,800 students. The construction cost about $49 million and to include all of the technology and equipment, the total price was $67.5 million well below the budgeted $72 million.

sterling aviation high school

The enthusiasm of the students is evident from these pictures. Their beautiful, exciting campus in the midst of an area in which such innovative public edifices are rare, if not unique.

sterling aviation high school

As Justin Fuentes, the school’s principal explained:

“We wanted something sustainable…When we’ve partnered with businesses in the past, some have ended up failing and we’d get cut off… I think it’s important, the neighborhood needs something great…Former bonds have come and gone, and not much has changed around here. We’re the farthest-south school in HISD, and you get the assumption that it’s forgotten. But this proves HISD and the city care. Now, this is a showpiece in the neighborhood that elevates the whole area.”

Rev. A.L. Hickman, a special education co-teacher at Sterling and pastor of the nearby New Commandment Christian Fellowship Church, added.

It’s like a rose sticking out of a garden…Every week my parishioners would ask about it. No one in this community doesn’t know the school is here now, and they’re so grateful to have it.”

The principal made an interesting aviation point; by owning its own hangars, the school is not dependent on a repair company that recalls the space when an unexpected big order comes in. Independent resources create the continuity needed for education.

The Sterling Raiders find that the two new gymnasiums, observation deck with views of nearby Hobby Airport and collaborative learning spaces are attractive in both appearance and as an educational magnet. But it’s the full-sized airplane hangar, a realistic place of work in which school lessons can lead to jobs that really captures their attention.

The Houston Chronicle reporter got a quote which will please all in aviation who are toiling in this educational challenge:

“Armonnie Neal, a 16-year-old sophomore at the school, said she was eager to enroll in the aviation program even though she hopes to eventually become a nurse.

‘I’ve never seen some of these engines before,’ she said, looking around the hangar. ‘It’s important for the school to have this. People want to be pilots and mechanics, and having this space will show us more about airplanes. It’s so big, and it looks so much more professional.’”

Aviation need not hype up what its work is. The realism of the Sterling Aviation High School demonstrates that the selling of aviation as a career can be done with thoughtful, well designed programs and building.

Houston, you don’t have a problem! Good job.


New aviation high school complex in Houston has own hangar
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