When an opportunity in Canada presented itself to educate students on aviation-related topics in preparation for an upcoming trip to Disney World, Senior Vice President of Air Operations Craig Drew and Captain Ken Rae, both Canadian natives, were beyond excited to lend their expertise.
Adopt-A-Pilot Takes Canada
Although the Ontario, Canada region isn’t the hometown for Ken and me, we jumped at the opportunity to visit St. Peter’s Catholic Secondary School and bring Southwest’s Adopt-A-Pilot program there. The Adopt-A-Pilot program allows Pilots the opportunity to volunteer their time by visiting classrooms and mentoring students on aviation-related topics in science, math, and geography. The program not only educates students on popular topics like how an airplane flies but ”adopted” Pilots are also able to modify the curriculum to fit the needs of their audience.
Ken and Craig strike a pose with studentsKen and Craig strike a pose with students
During our visit, the students of St. Peter’s Catholic Secondary School were preparing for their big trip to Disney World. The students travel every four years on Southwest from Buffalo, NY to Orlando, FL. Their teacher, Mrs. Erin O’Brien-Adkinson, requested that Ken and I share what they could expect on their trip, in addition to speaking about and walking the kids through aviation themed activities.
We both set off to visit Mrs. O’Brien-Adkinson’s class of 16 high school students with special needs. This was the first time flying for many of the students and some of them had some anxiety about the trip. Nevertheless, Ken and I hoped preparing the students for their upcoming trip and answering their questions about travel at the airport and what to expect on the airplane would help settle their nerves. We covered a variety of topics including safety on the airplane, what to expect during takeoff and landing—we even brought along some snacks for the students to enjoy! It was a privilege to spend time with them and share our perspectives.
Students gather to eat lunch with Craig and KenStudents gather to eat lunch with Craig and Ken
The Airport Experience in the Classroom
We were able to create a special curriculum geared towards their upcoming trip that also focused on the students’ individual abilities. The students also came prepared with specific questions of their own that they wanted to be answered. Ken personally gathered photos of the Buffalo airport and showed the students photos of an airplane cabin to better familiarize the students with what to expect. We even took it a step further by moving chairs around to set the classroom up like the cabin of an airplane. Ken shared that, it was very important to show the students what to expect once they arrived in Buffalo. As many avid travelers know, it is common to remove accessories at airport security for screening. We were made aware that there was one student who wore a watch that he didn’t like to take off. After explaining how the security checkpoints work and showing him photos of what to expect, he was then more than excited to start his journey and abide by the required security procedures.
Craig pictured with students wearing Southwest Flight Attendant and Pilot uniformsCraig pictured with students wearing Southwest Flight Attendant and Pilot uniforms
Ken and I brought Crew uniforms, serving trays, oxygen masks, Southwest-branded baseball hats, and much more for the students to see before the trip. Through this exercise, students became more familiar with Southwest’s boarding procedures and the inflight safety briefing. Some students even had the opportunity to provide “inflight service” in the airplane styled classroom to their classmates.
A Trip to Remember
“The Adopt-A-Pilot program was a great experience for myself as a teacher and for my students,” shared Erin. “Captain Craig and Captain Ken made the program interactive for the students and they learned so much. The extra hands-on experiences they provided the students outside of the typical AAP curriculum was amazing. Our day with Captain Craig and Captain Ken will definitely be a day we always remember. We are so thankful to have been a part of Southwest’s Adopt-A-Pilot program.”
Students and chaperones in route to Walt Disney World ResortStudents and chaperones in route to Walt Disney World Resort
A month later, we followed up with Erin’s class and they confirmed that the students had a wonderful experience traveling and had a blast on their trip!