Brian J. Kelly

Randolph-Macon Academy
Front Royal, Virginia
Brian J. Kelly, Teacher

The Sky’s the Limit

 Ever since I somehow convinced my father that majoring in English Literature would provide me with sufficient career opportunity, I always thought that one of those opportunities might just involve teaching.  Although my journey took me on a circuitous path through the world of television and film, today I find myself adjusting to 2 significant firsts in my life’s journey – I am now a high school teacher and tennis coach and I am making a career transition to full-time teaching in the midst of a global pandemic.

In addition to being a teacher, I am the director of our newly launched Unmanned Systems Lab — which is a fancy way of saying I teach students the applications of unmanned aerial aircraft in a number of professional level disciplines.  The program is part of Randolph-Macon Academy’s Career Pathways initiative which attempts to connect the students’ HS experience to the challenges they will face in the real world.

In a normal year the Unmanned Systems Lab would see students participating in a variety of  field study and research projects using unmanned aerial systems (flying drones) to collect and process data used in fields such as engineering, agriculture and emergency response management.  But the pandemic has seriously curtailed our ability to transport students off campus to conduct field work and many of our research partners have correspondingly scaled back their operations.   In an attempt to keep students challenged, we have shifted the curriculum to focus more on classroom instruction and what can be accomplished here on our 130-acre campus.  One of my biggest challenges of the program are the electives, and how many students choose such courses as a way to get outside the very classroom to which we find ourselves too often confined.

Our first project involved dividing classes into teams and tasking them with making a short film based primarily on drone cinematography.  In other words, turning technology into a tool for storytelling.  The students produced, directed and shot six short films about a variety of topics.  What I initially viewed as a compromise has developed into an exposé of teamwork, self-expression and creative vision.

A little over six weeks into the school-year, the experiment is working.  We are here, in-person and the plans and safety measures we have implemented are holding strong.  The students understand what is at stake and they are working hard in spite of mask mandates, disinfecting protocols and a social distancing policy that runs contrary to the very essence of their teenage wonder years.  All are safe and healthy and enjoying a bit of freedom working with some really cool technology.

2020, will go down in history for many reasons.  But when I stop and think about it, I find myself marveling at the adaptability of the human spirit and how when faced with challenges there is nothing we cannot do.  And my students keep reminding me  – the sky is the limit…