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St. Damian School Students to Welcome Southwest Airlines “Adopt-A-Pilot Program” Pilots on Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Retired Captain Lou Freeman, the first African American pilot and chief pilot for Southwest Airlines, will be a featured guest speaker

Oak Forest, Ill. (March 16, 2023) – St. Damian School’s seventh and eighth grade students will welcome pilots from Southwest Airlines’ “Adopt-A-Pilot” (AAP) program on Tuesday, March 21, 2023 at 10 a.m. Retired Captain Lou Freeman, the first African American pilot and chief pilot for Southwest Airlines, and local Southwest Chief Pilot Captain Nick Caulfield, will visit the students.

The pilots’ visits are part of the AAP Program that connects Southwest pilots with classrooms to engage students in fun, STEM-centered activities and aviation-related lessons to spark an interest in aviation careers. During the program, pilots volunteer their time participating in classrooms and corresponding from the "road" via e-mail and postcards. Beyond the program's core mentorship and curriculum-based activities, pilots often take it one step further and seek mentors for their students.

Each school year, students in more than 1,500 classrooms across the country will “adopt” Southwest’s pilots to mentor them in and around the fifth-grade level. Due to COVID-19, the program was delayed at St. Damian School.

Retired St. Damian School teacher Michelle Caulfield volunteered to return to the elementary school to teach lessons as part of the four-week long AAP curriculum focusing on writing, geography, math, aviation and the science behind flight. She retired from St. Damian School in 2022 and returned to teach the program because her original plan of having students participate in 2020 came to an abrupt halt during the pandemic; she did not want her students, now in the seventh and eighth grades, to miss this opportunity.

"This curriculum is a phenomenal way to engage students in learning through real-life scenarios. It incorporates science, math, geography, history, technology, reading, and writing skills that they apply to situations used in the aviation industry. It elevates the students’ ambitions to new heights.”

At the culmination of the four-week curriculum, students will travel to Southwest Airlines at Midway Airport, on April 24 and May 23, 2023, to tour a hangar and sit in a cockpit.

Created in 1997, Adopt-A-Pilot started as a community outreach program in just 50 classrooms in Southwest's destination cities, and has grown to reach more than 412,000 students nationwide. Southwest Airlines developed the program in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Education and the Smithsonian Institution of National Air and Space Museum. National leaders such as Gen. Colin Powell, President Bill Clinton, and First Lady Laura Bush have recognized the excellence that the Adopt-A-Pilot program offers students.