county boards
Monterey County school helps students soar to new heights
A Monterey County Office of Education school is taking at-promise students from the streets to the classroom and into the sky. Bob Hoover Academy, in partnership with Monterey COE’s Alternative Education Department, created the Sea Air Fire Earth (SAFE) Flight program under the umbrella of the career technical education portfolio. While the program includes aviation topics, it is not about making pilots. It is about providing the students with inspiration, successes, hope and opportunity through flight.

Originally conceived as an after-school program, the academy now includes all aspects relating to student flight and aviation ground training operations, as well as consulting services to help develop aviation-related educational curriculum. SAFE program academic instructors are funded through the county office and flight instructors are funded through the Bob Hoover Academy, a nonprofit organization. The partnership is a great example of the public and private sectors coming together to provide opportunities for students who need them the most.

BHA is the brainchild of aviation legend and virtuoso air show performer, Sean D. Tucker, who is best known for his airshow performances in the Oracle Challenger. The aerobatic specialist named the school after his mentor and aviation great, R. A. “Bob” Hoover, who valued education, humility, dignity and optimism.

The students in SAFE are alternative-education at-promise youth who generally are referred to the program by a probation officer or because they were expelled from a Monterey County school. “These students struggle,” said Jeff Hardig, principal of the SAFE program. “The normal approach to teaching didn’t work. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result.”

In addition to the ground school and flight-training component BHA, the program uses a high school STEM curriculum that includes aviation-related topics. Students are provided with computers, therapy sessions, internship opportunities, hands-on courses and more. The program can accommodate up to 40 students and is not currently full.

On a typical day, students hop from a traditional classroom on the Salinas Municipal Airport grounds where they learn aviation principles, history, science, English or other core subjects to a flight simulator, where aviation mentors demonstrate flight controls and concepts, or to Tucker’s hangar for flying. With each milestone, students find out more about themselves and what they can achieve with practice and commitment.

Teacher Christian Lamonea dishes out practical advice and encouragement between core classes. He said students hear about the academy through word of mouth and through social media. Potential aviation students “can’t do drugs or be involved in gang” activity, he noted.

Despite previous challenges in their lives, these at-promise students are up to the challenge offered by BHA. “This is a challenge — flying an airplane is a challenge,” said Tucker. “Facing your fears and conquering your fears one baby step at a time is a challenge. And [students] using the airplane as a metaphor to challenge themselves, to build their self-esteem, to build their confidence — they’re doing something extraordinary that their peers aren’t, and that’s fabulous, that’s really fabulous. Our students come from challenging homes and juvenile detention centers.” He said that “some have a chip on their shoulder,” but you can’t give up on them. “These kids are our future. They are our precious jewels and you have to give them a shot. They’re not looking for a handout. You have to grab them so they can become part of this great community that we call America.”

To learn more about BHA, visit