MAHOPAC, N.Y. - Last Wednesday afternoon, the seventh-grade students in Carol Polimino’s innovators class at Mahopac Middle School intently watched a video play out before them on the TV monitor at the front of the classroom.
The video showed the point-of-view of a camera as it stealthily wound its way through the darkened rooms of a house. The camera was mounted on a New York State Police drone—it showed footage that was taken during the search for a missing person.
“When you fly inside, it’s very tough,” Sgt. Joe Malorgio of the state police told the class. “There are a lot of things you have to worry about. You have to have a lot of concentration and practice.”
Malorgio was visiting the school to show students how drones are used in police investigations, but he also pointed out they are now used in myriad occupations and industries and can provide a career path for those interested in the burgeoning technology.
“When I was training, they had hoops that we had to fly [the drones] through,” Malorgio told the class as the video concluded. “The drones that we practiced with wouldn’t hover in place. Every little movement you made with the stick, the drone was going to move, too. If I let go of the stick, it would just fall to the ground.
“A lot of people think it’s a toy, but this thing actually does a lot of work that makes people safe and makes things easier on us,” he added.
Jay Zides, a secondary education technology specialist who works at the high school and middle school, helps teachers acclimate to new technologies and apply them to their curriculum. He said the drones provide the school with an opportunity to “do something special.”
“We started the kids on small ’copter micro drones. They are very safe for indoor flying—very durable,” Zides explained. “They had to take a knowledge test before they could even pick up a remote control. We had safety protocols and always went through a preflight checklist.
“Eventually, it morphed into them flying obstacle courses. We had 100 percent engagement from these kids doing something that they were really interested in,” he added. “Once they got the basic skills, we could employ it as a basic tool for education.”
Dr. Catherine Sweeny, special education administrator, said she got the idea for the drone curriculum while on an administrative retreat with co-workers.
“Everyone got a gift of a little drone,” she said. “I thought, ‘I am going to bring a couple of these to my teachers and we are going find a way to make this work for kids.’ I brought them to Mrs. Polimino and said, ‘Use these with the kids somehow. Let’s find a way.’ [Polimino and Zides] created this Wednesday afternoon drone program. They created these courses together. It’s a beautiful thing. We are always looking for ways to make education more engaging, especially with our differently abled learners.”
Malorgio said that while he was illustrating how drones are used in police work, the scope of applications goes well beyond that.
“Drones are a very big industry and they are used for a lot of tasks,” he told the kids. “There are a lot of companies out there right now that are looking to use drones to make work easier. We need pilots. If this is something that interests you, study hard. They are not just for law enforcement. They are everywhere now.”
The school owns three drones and is working on applying them to different areas of study.
“It’s an industry that has grown every year,” Malorgio said. “They are constantly expanding. And as [the student gets] older and they stick with it, well, the more knowledge they have the better. It’s a potential career path and it doesn’t have to be law enforcement. You can work in the private sector; you can work for a utility company. There are a lot of options.”