Students Take to the Sky - Carolina Country
Bright Ideas grant leads to drone program March 2021
Bright Ideas grant leads to drone program
March 2021

It's a bird, it's a plane, it's a drone! And it seems they're everywhere, from the electric company, to emergency services, and in schools as well.

Mike Lubawski, a teacher at Harnett Central High School, wrote a Bright Ideas grant to receive drones for the school's drone technology department.

"Two years ago, the US Army recruiting center offered a high school STEM program and sent out applications across the state for high schools to apply for their inaugural drone competition," said Lubawski. "Sara Williamson, the career development coordinator for our school, asked me to sponsor a team if we were selected to participate."

This opportunity allowed students to build a drone, see drones the Army uses, and speak with drone operators. A great way to see STEM principles in action.

This opportunity allowed students to build a drone, see drones the Army uses, and speak with drone operators. A great way to see STEM principles in action.

"After the competition, Justin Wilkinson, our county's career and technical education director, and Larry Clark, career and technical education instructional coordinator, approached me with the idea of starting a drone program in Harnett County," said Lubawski.

"Trying to launch this new program, with a majority of students participating in remote learning, has been a challenge."

The program had a minimum equipment standard and the county was able to provide 10, which would have worked great for face-to-face instruction. However, in order to reduce cross contamination, a Bright Ideas grant was written for more drones.


From student to certified drone pilot, Matthew Rogers.

They received the grant and will have 20 drones in their classroom.

"The program is one semester long, and we are looking into adding a level-two class in the future," said Lubawski. "The level-two course will incorporate mapping of real estate, commercial buildings, property, and agriculture. We will also discuss how drones can be used to aid emergency management services."

That being said, how are the approximately 16-17 students keeping engaged?

"It has been a challenge! I really try to encourage the students to stay focused on the goal of becoming a licensed drone pilot while in high school," he said. "Students taking this program have the opportunity to become federally certified drone operators."

The Federal Aviation Administration, or FAA, requires a certification test, which permits an individual to operate a drone for financial gain, apart from recreational users.

The state also requires you to possess state certification, in order to commercially operate a drone in the state.

"I wanted to be able to provide a drone for each student enrolled in the program," he said. "As things are now, the only students who are flying drones at least once a week are those who are coming to school for face-to-face learning."

The addition of the 10 drones will allow a drone to be assigned to each student.


Lubawski works with his face-to-face students.

So, what happens to ensure that everyone with a drone keeps it in tip-top shape?

The drones will be signed out to students, just like their textbooks and chromebooks. And, like chromebooks and textbooks, they are responsible for the cost to repair or replace the drone, should anything happen. These devices are about the cost of a chromebook.

While it is not a requirement for students learning remotely to carry a drone home, it is encouraged so that these students will have practice flying, as well as relating to content terminology.

"Students will be required to submit videoed flight assignments weekly," he said.

A win-win, allowing students to be engaged, as well as providing accountability during a different time of learning.

Find Out More

To learn more about the drone program, contact Mike Lubawski at or Harnett County CTE director, Justin Wilkinson at

You can also learn more about the Bright Ideas grant program for teachers.

Bright Ideas Grant Program

Like this?

Share it with others