CRYSTAL LAKE – Some Crystal Lake fifth-graders are taking part in a nationally recognized educational program that teaches students science, math and geography with the help of a Southwest Airlines pilot.
Through a program called Adopt-A-Pilot, Southwest Airlines pilot Rich Jenkins will visit West Elementary and Canterbury Elementary for the next five weeks, teaching fifth-graders about aviation science, time zones and goal setting, among other lessons.
The lessons are designed to teach students about the aviation industry while also challenging them to solve math and science problems. Students are asked to calculate travel times based on Jenkins’ schedule and are introduced to concepts such as gravity, lift, drag and thrust.
“We’re exposing them to an opportunity here of a whole different career field,” Jenkins said. “Not just flying, but I introduce a little bit about flight attendants, mechanics, everything it takes to get an airplane airborne.”
About 700 pilots from around the country volunteer for Southwest Airlines’ Adopt-A-Pilot program, which began in 1997. It has been recognized by former President Bill Clinton, former Secretary of State Colin Powell and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as an award-winning community involvement program.
Pilots are “adopted” by a classroom at no cost to the school.
“I absolutely love what I do,” Jenkins said. “I’m trying to give an opportunity for some kids to actually see what I do, and maybe spark an interest in somebody.”
On Monday morning, Jenkins was at West Elementary School, where he went over the different jobs at an airline, the destinations Southwest Airlines flies, and his weekly flight schedule.
“I think it’s a perfect time to have kids start thinking about what they want to do when they grow up,” said Donna Maguire, a fifth-grade teacher at West Elementary. “It gives them something to think about. A lot of them come away from the presentation interested in some phase of aviation.”
Outside presentations are a rarity in Maguire’s class, but she felt it was important for the students to learn more about aviation and the many sub-lessons that come with it.
“We have a very tight curriculum, so there’s not time for a lot of outside presentations,” she said. “But we felt very strongly about having Mr. Jenkins here. … I love the way it integrates math and social studies and all of the things kids study in school.”
Jenkins makes visual aids a priority throughout the program. He uses everything from model planes to video he shot from the cockpit to keep the students engaged.
“In the course of just one class, there’s so many things going on,” Maguire said. “He’s constantly changing it up and changing gears to keep the interest of even our students who have trouble focusing.”
“You see the energy in the kids,” Jenkins said. “If I can affect one or two of these kids, that’s a great goal for me.”