Our program engages a child’s imagination with the exciting endeavor of human flight. They learn to value teamwork when solving complex problems. They experiment, present their ideas, gain confidence and become leaders.
Our unique focus encompasses a wide range of disciplines. From designing airplanes to writing stories about space flight — when we look at problems through an aerospace lens, it only leads to creativity and innovation.
Our students will become the scientists and engineers that will solve our most pressing problems in the future. We think they deserve the gift of flight.
Our curriculum is three fold
Inspiration. Imagination. Commitment.
Our curriculum offerings support student successes for living, learning and growing in the 21st century. With our emphasis in aerospace, science, technology, engineering and mathematics; we are accomplishing our mission by exposing young minds to a world of possibilities, and backing that up with the coursework that will help them reach their highest potential.
In addition to the specific subjects, our students are exposed to many guest scientists, astronauts and professionals from a wide range of careers. Our students continue to be inspired by the message given and the fact that students can achieve their goals with hard work and perseverance.
Our students continue to learn through field experiences that take them beyond the walls of the classroom. These field experiences provide many "firsts" for a number of our students. First airplane ride, first space museum, first time serving as a crew member of a simulated mission are a few examples. In many cases these firsts inspire their earliest career goals that include scientist, engineer and yes, astronaut too.
We encourage parents and families to remain active throughout all of their child's education. After all, our parents learn with their children as they are exposed to the exciting, new information we see at Farnsworth every year.
A STEM Cinderella Story: Farnsworth
On the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brothers flight, December 17, 2003, Farnsworth Aerospace Magnet School on the East Side of St. Paul unveiled the first true flight simulation lab in a public school. The small company I own designed and built that lab.
It was the beginning of a minor transformation in education that has, for the most part, been taking place under most people’s radar. Here’s the backstory:
The East Side of St. Paul is not a wealthy suburb. It is a solidly blue collar neighborhood. Eighty-five percent of the enrollment at Farnsworth are immigrant or minority students. It is not the first place you’d think of as an early adopter of high technology.
Back in 2003, Farnsworth Elementary had recently become one of the first magnet schools in Minnesota; Farnsworth Aerospace. In place of a standard elementary curriculum, the entire school’s approach to learning was themed and framed in aviation and aerospace. People were skeptical, especially since Farnsworth had a history as a "troubled school."
Turning Farnsworth into a magnet school wasn't the only option on the table. Closure was seriously being considered. In the end, the district decided to gamble on the magnet concept by enlisting a few brave people, namely Jill Wall and principal Dr. Troy Vincent. They were the dynamic duo that lead the effort to turn Farnsworth around.
How? By leveraging our children’s innate fascination with airplanes. It was a new, indirect way to get kids excited about math, science and even art. Teacher Scott Shaffer calls it camouflaged learning.
The district helped move the adopting of an aerospace program along by loosening bureaucratic constraints. The school's leadership was given enough leeway and flexibility to truly innovate. Within three years, test scores and enrollment was up. Talk of closure had been forgotten. Farnsworth had made a 180 degree turn in the public education sky.
The flight simulation lab wasn’t the sole reason for the turn around, but it was a key part of the transformation. It gave the school a powerful, hands-on learning tool. Kids were immersed in highly realistic, sometimes thrilling, aviation experiences. The flight sim lab gave the school credibility. It quickly became a prime destination for school tours. Once parents saw the flight simulators, it became clear Farnsworth was not just paying lip service to aerospace. “Wow” was (and still is) the most frequent utterance of those stepping into the lab for the first time.
After Farnsworth Aerospace Elementary proved the concept, it found itself becoming a showpiece for the school district. The nearby middle school, Cleveland, was even more troubled than Farnsworth Elementary had been. I had a personal tour of Cleveland around this time and witnessed a school struggling with behavior and safety concerns. Cleveland needed to be turned around in a big way.
The district decided to pull a page out of the corporate turnaround playbook. They chose to reinforce success. Dr. Vincent and Jill Wall from Farnsworth Elementary were put in charge of getting Cleveland to straighten up and fly right. The first order of business was to make Cleveland an Aerospace Magnet.
A flight sim lab was installed in an underutilized shop classroom. This sim lab was bigger than Farnsworth Elementary School’s lab because it had more student capacity. It also possessed more sophisticated capabilities to match the age of the middle school students. Within three years, Cleveland had a waiting list of over 700 students. Any thoughts that the success at Farnsworth Aerospace had been a “fluke” evaporated, and so did the name “Cleveland.” The school was renamed Farnsworth Aerospace 5-8 Upper Campus. The name ‘Farnsworth’ was becoming a brand. Current principal Hamilton Bell continues to keep up the momentum and differentiation that aerospace has brought to Farnsworth.
The new concern then became, “What to do with these students after they leave Farnsworth 5-8?”. They'd been in the aviation magnet program since kindergarten. Simply moving them into a standard format high school seemed like a missed opportunity to maintain the successful momentum created at the two Farnworth campuses.
Johnson High School was situated right across the street from Farnsworth Aerospace Elementary. It wasn't as troubled as Cleveland. However, neither was it a poster child of high academic performance. In 2011, Johnson sat at the bottom in the MMR ranking of the seven high schools in St. Paul.
In 2012, Johnson High School became Johnson Aerospace & Engineering High School. A flight sim lab was installed. This lab was the most sophisticated lab yet. In fact, it was more sophisticated than the flight sim lab at the US Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
By 2016, Johnson occupied the top spot in the MMR ranking of the seven high schools in St. Paul.
The Lesson of Farnsworth
This turnaround story boils down to three things: leadership, risk, and innovation. The leadership had a crystal clear vision and followed it up with action. In short, they took the ball and ran with it. “Risk” is not something academic institutions are known for embracing. In fact, it’s just the opposite. “Risk” is perhaps the original four letter word in the halls of academia. The risk in 2003 was that an aviation magnet idea might fail once the “novelty” wore off. Finally, the innovation continues to this day. It can be seen by the creative ways aviation and aerospace are being applied in the classrooms throughout these schools.
Today, kindergartners at Farnsworth Aerospace Elementary, surrounded by the excitement of airplanes, rockets and space travel, continue their educational journey onto Farnsworth Aerospace Upper Middle, and remain within this environment until they receive their diplomas from Johnson Aerospace & Engineering High School. This aerospace odyssey happens in the East Side of St. Paul, where blue collar kids’ futures are shaped by the academic and experiential exposure of the wild blue yonder.