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Adopt-A-Pilot: A Program That Shows Students that the Sky Really is the Limit with Hard Work


When I’m on a trip, Coworkers and Passengers have told me how much they love the beautiful tie I’ve been wearing. The colors remind me of the many sunrises and sunsets I have seen from the cockpit. This tie is even more special because it was designed by one of my students for the Jun Lee 2.jpgAdopt-A-Pilot Tie Design Contest. Every time I wear it, it makes me proud of all of my students’ accomplishments and it is a daily reminder of the importance of giving back to the communities we serve and to inspire the next generation.


Started in 1997, the Adopt-A-Pilot program is an in-classroom educational program where Southwest Pilots like myself have helped thousands of young students find answers to questions such as, "How do planes fly?" and "How do I become a pilot?", as well as learn about the many careers that directly involve or in some way are touched by aviation. Over 720 Southwest Pilots from across the nation participated in this year’s program. We help students set goals, think about careers, and get them excited to continue their learning journey. We use a structured curriculum developed by Southwest Airlines, with guidance from the Smithsonian Institute's National Air and Space Museum and the National Association of Teachers.


My first lesson always starts by introducing my students to a typical day at the airport from the operational perspective. I like to give them a peek into the behind the scenes activities the Passengers don’t always see. The following lessons involve geography, the aviation alphabet, airport codes, and time zones. I use the Southwest route map to track my flights for the students, and we talk about how I get to each destination.


My favorite lesson? When we cover the basics of flight and then make paper airplanes. The students take their planes and throw them to see how far and fast they fly. Who knew a lesson in aerodynamics could be so fun! It’s a great opportunity to educate the students on all things STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) while incorporating fun aviation-themed activities. This is my third year volunteering and my student’s enthusiasm for learning and their interest in aviation keeps me coming back to teach again.


Jun Lee 1.jpgWhere the tie comes in

Every year, students in Adopt-A-Pilot classrooms around the country have the opportunity to participate in a tie design contest. The ties, which are worn by every “adopted” Pilot, are a fun way for the students to artistically express what Adopt-A-Pilot means to them. With over 4,700 entries this year alone, the competition is fierce! In the end, one design is selected to be made into a limited edition tie.


The Celebration

When I found out that my student, Jun, had been chosen as the winner for the 2019 Adopt-A-Pilot Tie Contest, I was so proud of him! I could hardly wait for the Tie Ceremony so we could celebrate in true Southwest fashion—with a big party!


Over 120 excited students from Burton Valley Elementary School in California gathered in the auditorium and were treated to some fun Southwest swag, cupcakes, and a raffle. Everyone cheered and clapped while we presented a framed tie to a very surprised Jun and his parents. How exciting for him, his family, and friends to see his drawing come to life!


The students who participate in Adopt-A-Pilot every year truly enjoy the experience.  Oftentimes, they are left with knowledge and a desire to learn more about aviation and their future careers. One of my students has even signed up for a flight lesson! Every once in a while, I will see a former student in the airport. They run over with their families and say “Look it’s our Adopt-A-Pilot! Are you flying our plane?”  


I know Southwest’s Adopt-A-Pilot program is having a real impact on these student’s lives. The look of inspiration and excitement on their faces every day I teach lets me know that I am really showing them that the sky is the limit. 


To learn more on Southwest’s Adopt-A-Pilot program, visit our Community Outreach page.

1 Comment
Explorer B

I love our adopt-a-pilot program! Its a great way to inspire the next generation of pilots (or designers).