Students get Flighty Lesson from Southwest Airlines

Taking flight may be the theme of what the fifth graders are learning at Otis Elementary School, but the lessons still aim to keep the students well-grounded -- stay in school, study hard and you'll succeed.

Christian Borth, a pilot with Southwest Airlines, has been visiting the school as part of a national mentoring program sponsored by the airline, teaching the kids a little about what he does for a living.

They have been studying navigation, flight plans and what makes an aircraft fly. But, along the way the students in teacher Susan Jacoli's class have been also thinking about choosing their careers.

"It's a chance for the kids to realize that learning can be fun," said Borth, a seven-year veteran with the airline who flies out of Oakland airport. "And it allows them at a young age to think about their futures and how they can achieve their goals."

Yesterday Borth talked about a recent flight, when he took off from Oakland for Hartford via Baltimore. He reminded the students of how they plotted the course together and how they calculated the distance.

He also gave a quick talk about time zones before the kids broke into groups to plan the culmination of the mentoring program: A three-minute video -- "What's Your Destination?" -- that they will script and produce to show the careers they hope to pursue.

Students across the nation will make similar videos as part of the "Adopt-A-Pilot" program. Southwest will then select one entry and fly the students who made it on an educational field trip at no charge.

"We're thinking about doing it as a talk show," said Nicholas Raber, 10, who hopes to become a lawyer. "Or maybe we'll just do straight interviews."

Damian Dunwood, 11, said he wants to become a police officer, while Jessica Matheney, also 11, has set her sights on becoming a fashion designer.

"We've been learning how planes fly," said 10-year-old Danny Radding. "Capt. Borth is good at teaching it. But we've also been learning about what we want to do when we grow up."

As part of getting Radding and the other kids in Classroom 17 to ponder their future, Borth has encouraged them to set out a career path the same way he plans a flight: by deciding where they want to go and outlining the steps needed to get there.

This marks the first time Otis school has participated in the program, which Southwest launched in 1997 with the U.S. Department of Education, the Smithsonian Institute's National Air and Space Museum and other agencies. More than 80,000 students have participated.

Jacoli, the teacher, said she has learned a little about flying, too, from Borth's visits to the school.

"We've learned about the amount of fuel that's needed and how much an airplane weighs," she said. "All that kind of stuff. It's been really interesting and the kids love it."