I had the distinct pleasure of joining the fifth grade class of Dawes Elementary School on their field trip tour of our Southwest Airlines Operation at MidwayAirport. Why was Dawes Elementary so lucky? Well... the answer is that they earned it along with their Adopted First Officer Tyrone Ward! The fifth graders were graduating from the Adopt-A-Pilot program, and the culmination of their achievement was a fun-filled day with Southwest Airlines Pilots, playing games like “pin the tail on the Boeing” and cupcakes…there was also a bit of education involved! If a field trip like this would have existed when I was younger I would probably be flying the skies instead of writing this blog!
What is Adopt-A-Pilot," you might ask? The Adopt-A-Pilot Program reaches fifth grade classes in each of our destination cities and the classes adopt their own Southwest Airlines Pilot for a four-week educational and mentorship program, containing curriculum that covers geography, math, science, civics, history, aviation, creative writing, and research skills. “Adopted” Pilots mentor students and communicate a key message: Education is important in reaching personal goals, and that message was communicated thoroughly throughout the day. Chicago Midway was chosen sight for this particular field trip because the Chicago Flight Operations Base won the "2009 Ace Pilot Base" award for having the highest percentage of Pilots register for the Adopt-A-Pilot program. Go MDW!
As an award for the winning base, Adopt-A-Pilot sponsored a field trip for the class of an adopted Pilot from the winning Base. This year AAP sponsored First Officer Tyrone Ward's classes from Dawes Elementary.
The day started with students listening to our Midway Assistant Chief Pilot Art George talk about the Midway Operation and the 1,000 Pilots based at Chicago Midway. He then dismissed the Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, Echo and Foxtrot groups (Yes, the students learned the Phonetic Alphabet!) to go on a tour of Midway. They also got to board a Boeing 737 and sit in the cockpit like a real Pilot.
They also got to visit the Pilot’s Lounge and hear from the Chief Pilot Tony Dorsch who briefed the students about the average day of a pilot. Students were able to view flight manuals and see real time weather updates.
The best part of the tour was the opportunity to hear from a legendary Tuskegee Airman. The Tuskegee Airmen were America’s first black military airmen and were trained in Tuskegee, AL from 1941-1946. They served in WWII, and the students had the opportunity to hear from the 85-year-old veteran pilot, Lt. Williams, who talked about his experience during the war and about how these fifth grade students were the future of the country. What an inspiration!
The students also had the opportunity to see and pet Midway’s Canine Unit drug dog named Nicky. His owner, Officer Alaniz, gave an example of how the dog uses his sensitive nose to find illegal items in the airport.
In addition, Representative Glen Toby from The Book Bank Foundation gave each student a hardback book to further the foundation’s goal of literacy among youth.
Finally the big moment arrived, Adopt-A-Pilot graduation! All the students graduated with flying colors from the Southwest Airlines Adopt-A-Pilot program, learning lessons of science and the physics of flight, hopefully to inspire their young minds to start thinking about their future. Believe me…after meeting these students the sky truly is the limit!