Teacher in Virginia Created “Drone Olympics” Which is a Drone Course For Elementary School Students

Being an educator is one of the most stressful, underappreciated, and difficult jobs. It often doesn’t pay much and requires a lot of tireless work to prepare students for a future. This is why being awarded Teacher of the Year can mean so much to a recipient. These awards recognize the hard work of a teacher that strives to go above and beyond. These teachers know that education doesn’t only come out of a textbook or the four walls of a classroom.

To be considered for a Teacher of the Year award, an educator needs to uphold the highest standards of professionalism, inspire all students to learn and excel, and have the respect of their peers, students, and community. In 2021, one of the most trying school years in recent history because of COVID-19, Meghan Salter became the Cabell County Schools Teacher of the Year and a top 5 finalist for the West Virginia State Teacher of the Year. Meghan has spent the last 13 years teaching special needs/gifted education at the Martha Elementary School in Barboursville, West Virginia.

In 2015, a friend who was working as a drone cinematographer suggested coming to Meghan’s class for a presentation. At this time drones were just beginning to become popular in mainstream culture. Some schools were starting to use drones for educational purposes. But these were mainly high schools and universities, not elementary schools. And certainly not in a special needs classroom. Always wanting to find new ways to engage her students, Meghan got permission to have her friend speak with her class. “When he came to my classroom to talk to the students about drones, I noticed just how focused they were on what he was saying,” Meghan said. “I was like, wow, I could stand up here all day and blab at them and never keep their attention that long. Technology keeps kids interested.”

At that point, Meghan realized that drones could be the key to helping her students. But becoming one of the first elementary schools with a drone program was no easy task. Meghan had to learn to write educational grants to petition the board of education for funding for such a program. Meghan was ecstatic when her grant was approved for $1,500. She has since written several other educational grants to expand the drone program raising over $30,000. One of the key aspects in her first grant that caught the interest of the board was her goal to hold what she called a Drone Olympics for her students.

Meghan had to develop a drone curriculum from scratch, and the Drone Olympics would become the culmination of this curriculum. At the end of the year, students would participate in a series of drone challenges. To participate in the Drone Olympic challenges, students had to spend the year learning everything from how to build and program a drone, to how to fly one and the many applications in which drones could be used. The Drone Olympics touch on all aspects of an educational curriculum as students had to research science, technology, and mathematics. They also have to learn the history of drones and be able to write essays on a drone topic.

Meghan’s Drone Olympics have become a highlight for everyone at Martha Elementary. In 2019, Meghan’s program was brought to the attention of Women and Drones. The organization awarded her the Woman to Watch Education Award. Meghan has spent nearly 5 years growing the drone program, one she says is ever changing. Getting the program to be a success, Meghan had to learn from many failures first. But as she tells her students at the beginning of each year, “I want you to fail. I want you to fail because that is how you grow as a person. You have to fail to learn things, and my classroom is a safe place for you to do that. Nobody in the class will ever judge you for trying something new.”

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