The Kent Street Senior High School held a dinner on Saturday night, which I attended, to celebrate 30 years of aviation at the school. Aviation was first introduced into the school curriculum back in 1979. It was a single class and comprised 27 year 11 students, many of whom had come from outside the school catchment area to attend this inaugural course. Mal Yeo, who did a presentation at the dinner, is generally considered to be the driving force behind the inception and initial success of the program. The dinner was held at Tompkins Park function centre in Melville and many past students, teachers and parents attended the night, even some from overseas. The evening was ably MC’d by Kevin Bennett and I noticed Bill Prince from the Kentian Society was there along with representatives from the education department. It was good to see Senator Glen Sterle attend the night as he has a nephew at the school.
Before the Aviation program could start, there were a few things that had to happen. In 1978 the Board of Secondary Education approved aeronautics as an upper school subject. The WA Department of Education and Training advanced $600 to establish the program at the school but, more importantly, the Commonwealth Schools Commission provided an innovation grant of $14,000. The first aeronautics class commenced in 1979. It comprised students from several schools including two from overseas. Only two girls were a part of this inaugural class, with 25 boys.
Fundraising has always been a part of the aviation program and the program would not exist without funds raised by the students, parents, staff and community members. All funds raised during these events went towards the purchasing of equipment for the students. In 1994, Joan Terry, the wife of the late Paul Terry, donated an aircraft hangar valued at $100,000.
In 1987 the school had received over 70 applications by grade 7 students, so the program was opened up in the following year to the lower school classes. By the time the program had been in place for 14 years, the Commonwealth government approved funding for a new aviation centre. This took the program to new heights. One of the activities organised for the students passionate about air travel was an ‘aviation weekend extravaganza’ to Beverley and Northam. Here students got to experience gliding, hot-air ballooning and powered flight. Ansett Australia were also good supporters of the program, and in 1999 they provided students with the opportunity to participate in ‘jump-seat’ flights. Later Skywest signed up to help the students of Kent Street and work experience placements were offered.
Another key partnership the Kent Street Aviation program made was with Edith Cowan University in 2000. They joined forces to jointly promote aviation education in WA. This led to aviation being identified as one of 11 courses of study to be trialled in schools in 2004. A year later, for the first time in history, aviation became a TEE equivalent subject and a welcome option for many year 12 students. Swan TAFE and Kent Street Senior High School are currently in negotiations for year 11 and year 12 students to undertake VET in schools Certificate I and Certificate II courses during 2010.
The plan now is for the school to continue on with the aviation program, and planning is currently being done for the 2010 Oshkosh air show. As it stands now, the school owns and operates two training aircraft. Students are currently in the process of building the fourth student aircraft using school facilities. Previous student built aircrafts have been sold around the state for private use. Other activities such as watching the annual Red Bull Air Race on the South Perth foreshore, visiting the Avalon Airshow and exploring the RAAF base are all experiences had by the students in the program.
Graduate student feedback has established that being able to fly planes during school time has been the key to their success in the aviation field. Each year the parents organisation has successfully lobbied for the funding to cover the cost of these familiarisation flights, but they have been unable to get a long-term commitment. Kent Street would say that this program has demonstrated enormous benefits to the community and that the federal government should fund this program with an ongoing commitment of $50 000 per annum.
Kevin Bennett, Kent Street’s aviation guru, has done a tremendous job with the support of Kent Street High School’s principal, Rod Beresford. I congratulate both men and would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge all the other teachers, staff, students and families who have supported the aviation program over the last 30 years. Congratulations to Kent Street Senior High School.