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WA Launches a Pilot Ground School Class

Long-time Woodstock Academy social studies teacher Rich Garceau, an avid pilot, was online recently looking to reserve an airplane at the Southbridge (MA.) Municipal Airport.

While looking through the schedule, he noted the name of one of his students. “There is an app that you can go to and see where all the different airplanes are, and I found him in the air. I was standing in my kitchen and I was just so giddy,” Garceau said.

Ethan Pokorny is not one of Garceau’s social studies students. He belonged to the teacher’s inaugural private pilot ground school class which was launched at The Woodstock Academy this past fall semester.

Two years ago, Garceau had suggested the course to Woodstock Academy’s dean of academics Dr. Michael Harten. Garceau wasn’t suggesting he teach it, but he is well-versed in aviation, having graduated from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla. with a degree in air traffic control.  The original plan was to have a certified ground instructor teach the course, but those plans went awry just before the fall semester and Garceau stepped in.

The course was offered this fall and 19 students signed up. “I was thrilled (with the number). No one was sure if there would be enough interest and, suddenly, all these kids came out of the woodwork. It’s one of those things that you think may be cool, learning how to fly a plane, but don’t think that it’s actually even possible,” Garceau said.

The class doesn’t include any actual flying lessons. Instead, Garceau teaches everything that students will need to get to that next step academically including the physics of flight; federal aviation regulations; the national airspace system; the markings at an airport; how to communicate with air traffic control and the flight systems on an airplane.

“A lot of people are excited to jump into flight training without realizing how much they will need to learn beyond flying an aircraft in order to become a pilot,” said commercial pilot and certified Federal Aviation Agency flight instructor Joanne Swanson who works with Pokorny in the air. “Starting the ground school course before enrolling in flight training helps new student pilots like Ethan to become more knowledgeable on important topics other than actually flying. This has helped him advance more quickly in flight training than others who wait to start ground school until after they start flying.”

“The most enjoyable part of flying is the freedom from just taking in the sights of our community from above or flying down to Block Island for some lunch. The possibilities and freedoms that come from holding a pilot’s license are nearly endless,” Pokorny added. “I want to fly for the adventure, to be able to explore places that most people don’t even know exist; You can’t drive to Hawaii.”

And it’s not only flying. There is plenty of work available on the ground. “It opens the door for a lot of other things. Most of the people who work in aviation are not pilots. They are air traffic controllers. Some of my kids like to work on their cars and there is aviation maintenance and engineering where you design planes. This course kind of sets the foundation for everything else,” Garceau said.

He is now in the process of doing self-study to become a certified ground instructor which would enable him to sign off so his students can take the FAA written exam. The school plans to adopt the Aircraft Owner’s and Pilot’s Association curriculum which will help students get even closer to a private pilot’s license. “It’s the AOPA curriculum that has been developed by professional pilots and certified ground and flight instructors. It’s a solid program,” Garceau said.

Garceau would like to see some female students enroll in the class in the fall, as all 19 this past semester were male students. He also hopes to make some field trips to Logan or Bradley airports and tour the air traffic control facility as well as the airport, the hangars and maintenance facilities. 


The Woodstock Academy is an independent, day and boarding, co-educational, college preparatory high school for grades 9–12 and postgraduates located in Woodstock, CT. The mission of The Woodstock Academy is to prepare all students by providing diverse opportunities through a rigorous curriculum and a variety of programs in order to cultivate the necessary skills to become lifelong learners and global citizens.