By Frederick A. Johnsen
When a World War II Curtiss P-40 Warhawk fighter made a dramatic flyover during the first Ridgevue High School football home game last month, it was far more than a passing symbol. It marked the beginning of a way of life — a patriotic and respectful ethos nurtured by the new school in Nampa, Idaho.
Ridgevue students and faculty call themselves the Warhawks. It’s part of a collaborative relationship between the school and Nampa’s Warhawk Air Museum.
Ridgevue principal Julie Yamamoto, born and raised in this part of Idaho, enthusiastically embraces the classic freedoms and responsibilities that go with being an American citizen. She sees the example set by America’s Second World War generation as a thrilling and worthy role model for students of any era.
That’s music to the ears of Sue Paul, director of the Warhawk Air Museum. Sue and her husband John have nurtured a similar respect at the museum for decades.
Working with the museum’s administrative assistant, Heather Mullins, the Pauls made a presentation to the Vallivue School District that envisioned an ongoing alliance between the museum and Ridgevue High School.
Use of the museum by students and faculty is part of the story; inspiration in the halls of Ridgevue is another element. Various corridors in the sparkling new high school will be known by names like Rosie the Riveter, Warhawk, MacArthur, and Tuskegee, each conjuring visions of wartime sacrifice and heroism. As the inaugural school year for Ridgevue High unfolds, students will create related art and explanations to adorn each hall.
Yamamoto is at once optimistic and urgent as she says, “We have been gifted with an American way of life.” She intends to make sure younger generations understand the value of that legacy, and the responsibility that goes with it. It’s all part of her goal to bring the school into the community, making the school experience “bigger than these four walls.”
If Julie Yamamoto and Sue Paul share an abiding respect for history, their tools and outlook are as modern as today. While embracing the Warhawk symbol, students will render it using state-of-the-art graphics programs and computerized machines to equip the students to become productive in society.
Yamamoto envisions drafting classes that solve practical problems, not merely textbook exercises, and graphics classes that she says will be “designing business solutions” in the local community.
While learning valuable life skills, she says, students will be giving back to the community and gaining a sense of place in the larger world.
Nor is she content with some of the older precepts of STEM education, emphasizing the value of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. She acknowledges the evolved acronym STEAM, that folds the Arts into the mix.
If STEM, and STEAM, foster valuable critical thinking, Yamamoto wants to make the student experience more pragmatic than academic. “How do you have it not be a head exercise?” She looks to the community and to relationships like the one with Warhawk Air Museum to help create well-rounded capable post-high school citizens.
Idaho is largely an agricultural state, with a steady, if smaller, core of high-tech industries like HP computers, Micron, and the Idaho National Laboratory. The demands placed on the 21st Century workforce for this state in the Mountain West range from entry level jobs right out of high school to specialized technical competencies and positions requiring college education.
College is not a panacea for all high school students, and Yamamoto wants the immersive curriculum at Ridgevue High School to be much more than a pre-college mill.
“How do we keep as many doors open as possible” for students to find post-high school opportunities, she asks.
The Ridgevue High Warhawks — all 1,135 of them — will visit Warhawk Air Museum this year in groups. Like schools around the United States, Ridgevue must budget student travel carefully, but this trip to see the school’s historical namesake makes the cut.
If the Ridgevue Warhawks name conjures a combative mascot, Yamamoto says the intent is to have good role models.
She and the staff will promote “a palpable positive energy at games,” deliberately devoid of trash-talking the other team. “That’s not the Warhawk way,” she explains.
One comes away from a visit with Yamamoto impressed with the amalgam of new ideas, new technologies, and new community opportunities blended with the vintage, yet timeless, example set by America’s greatest generation.
If an enthusiastic and motivated principal and a community-oriented air museum in Nampa, Idaho, can collaborate for the good of students in an ongoing relationship, it remains to be seen how other aviation entities around the country can bring their own vision of that classic can-do, upbeat fliers’ attitude to the classroom in a meaningful partnership.