Last week we saw a familiar sight, school buses rolling through gate 24 at the Sebring Regional Airport. Highlands County students returned to the EAA Chapter 1240 Aviation Development Center to continue building another AirCam and participating in the Aviation and Aerospace Curriculum. Due to the COVID restrictions and beginning the semester online, we have fewer students than we had last year. We may be few, but we are mighty.

On a personal note, I have been conducting the Aviation and Aerospace curriculum online. Now I am experiencing what fellow teachers in the school district have been working through since early August, teaching face-to-face with COVID restrictions. It is so very different since I cannot use handouts and share texts due to the possible contamination of the materials. A worksheet or written assignment now has to be developed in an online format and turned in electronically.

For years I stood in front of the classroom and I could see the expressions on my students faces, and they could see mine. It is hard to do that now from behind a mask. The next challenge is to hear their responses through their masks. Another challenge for me having spent years in a shop class with loud machines and thousands of hours in an airplane before noise-cancelling headphones came along, I have lost certain ranges in my hearing. My wife Becky says I suffer from selective hearing, but that is a story for another column.

What I can see is the increased enthusiasm as it is much better to be face-to-face, being able to ask questions and discuss ideas more easily. The biggest plus is the hands-on ability to be in the hangar, building our second AirCam. In addition to fellow Career and Technical Education teacher Michael Halpern managing the building, he is supported by our volunteer staff of Bob Olinger, Bill Pisarillo and Charlie Dye. Vikki Greenleaf assists me in teaching the Aviation and Aerospace curriculum. All our community volunteers are Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) members of Chapter 1240. We could not conduct the program without their help and experience.

Last week was a challenge in many ways. We have adjusted to getting our Aviation and Aerospace program back on track. We have seen a national election like no other in modern history and all the stresses and concern surrounding the results. We have a community that has different points of view but we also have proven we can come together when it counts. There is an increasing number of COVID-19 cases and, until we have the vaccine distributed, it is important to take any and all precautions to limit the spread of the virus.

We are all tired of wearing masks, social distancing and having our lives disrupted. Now is not the time to let our guard down. I say this because I’m concerned that if the level of infections continues to rise, we may be facing another shut down. None of us wants that to happen, so please do what you can by wearing a mask around others, social distance and limit gathering in large groups.

One thing I am sure of, we as a nation and as a community, when we come together, we will remember what is important. It is acceptable to have different points of view, passions and beliefs and participate in a process where those issues can be discussed, debated and sorted out in a peaceful and rational way. Any other approach just delays the inevitable solution farther down the road. I take stock in what my fellow school board teachers and staff are doing every day. Putting in the effort to create options and opportunities for our youth so they can build a better world for all of us to enjoy. It is hard to build bridges when some are trying to burn them down. It is time to put our differences aside and come together.

.John Rousch is the director of the Highlands Aviation and Aerospace Academy, a community partnership between the School Board of Highlands County, the Sebring Regional Airport, EAA Chapter 1240 and Career Source Heartland, and other community groups supporting youth. He can be reached at johnrousch73@gmail.com, call or text 863-273-0522.