Adopt-a-Pilot program teaches students about aviation

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HERRIMAN -- Paper airplanes were flying at a Herriman elementary school Wednesday morning, and no students got in trouble for it. That's because it was all part of a special program with Southwest Airlines.

What is the Adopt-A-Pilot Program?
Since 1997, the Adopt-A-Pilot program has paired fifth-grade classes nationwide with Southwest Pilots to help students discover more than just how an airplane flies -- to emphasize the importance of education and setting personal goals.

Inside Butterfield Canyon Elementary School, it wasn't the normal teacher who had a group of fifth-graders' attention. Then again, maybe the new guy only had their attention because correct answers meant free candy.

Troy Palmer is actually a pilot with Southwest Airlines and is part of the company's Adopt-A-Pilot program. That's where pilots volunteer their time with schools to teach students a little about aviation, geography, and a few other lessons.

"We fly around from coast to coast, and city to city, and that's what we do," Palmer said, "but to be able to actually get in and influence and teach kids, that's one of the most rewarding things you can do."

The students sure seemed to like hearing his stories.

What does an "adopted" pilot do?
Students track their Pilot's journey on a United States map and complete math, science, geography, research, public speaking, and language arts activities that bring learning to life. Students are encouraged to consider future careers and the education and skills it takes to pursue the various careers they are interested in.

"We learned about what states they can land in, what their codes are for it, how many miles, and how we can add it up on their graphs," said fifth-grader Reice Miller.

But the best part of the class, for students, just might be making paper airplanes, then having a contest to see whose can fly the farthest.

Most students thought Bryce Palmer's plane would win, because he's Troy's son.

"It did pretty good; got a little bit beat up by the end," Bryce said.

After hearing about what a pilot does and what a fun career it could be, some students say they might want to become pilots too.

What will students learn?
Along with curriculum lessons, Adopt-A-Pilot reinforces important messages such as:
• Education is important - stay in school
• Just like parents and teachers, the community cares about each child
• Learning is fun
• Future goals are possible through planning, hard work, and determination.

"I've been making paper airplanes, and when he talks about the lift and drag and stuff, it's sort of like, ‘Yeah, it works like that,'" Reice said.

"Each student has a workbook put out by Southwest Airlines, and it has elements of career choices, career options," explained fifth-grade teacher Janis Gould.

You never know when flying paper airplanes might lead to flying real airplanes.

"It's fun to interact with them and see their joy, and hopefully it inspires them to do something in their lives," Palmer said.

If you're interested in having a Southwest Airlines pilot visit your school, CLICK HERE.


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Alex Cabrero


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