Kids’ mastery of math, science takes off with innovative pilot program at Summit School
As a captain with Southwest Airlines, Rob Bych’s number-one goal is to get his passengers safely from Point A to Point B.
To do this, he must know more than how the various controls in the cockpit work. Every time he flies, Bych also calls on his knowledge of math, physics, geography and other subjects.
A parent of three children attending Summit School of Ahwatukee, Bych also knows that sometimes young students question if they will ever use what they learn in school in “real life.”
So, when Bych, a west Chandler resident, heard about the Adopt-A-Pilot program—a nationwide initiative that puts Southwest Airlines pilots into fifth-grade classrooms for five weeks to help teach the students about topics like math, science and career goals—he knew he had to volunteer to bring the program to his kids’ school.
Four years ago, Bych became one of the 1,000 or so Southwest Airlines pilots who participates in the Adopt-A-Pilot program. Every year since then, he has returned to the school in the spring to teach, entertain and inspire the children with his combination of engaging curriculum-based lessons woven into discussions about everyday life.
Bych recently completed this year’s program with 20 fifth grade students from Lori Christianson’s classroom.
Listening to Bych recall his time with the students, it’s immediately clear how enthusiastic he is about the Adopt-A-Pilot program.
“I go into the classroom wearing my uniform and I start off talking about my career,” he said.
“I say things like, ‘You are in fifth grade now, but what will you do after high school, and after college? Everyone asks what you will do when you get older, and now is the time to start thinking about it.’”
After sharing his own story about how he become a pilot, Bych starts to teach his first lesson, which focuses on goal setting.
“I stress the importance of having a mentor—adults who are on the other side who can help them become what they want to be,” he said.
“But, as I say to them, they need to tell us what they have in mind, and then we can see if we can find someone who can help.”
For example, if a student expresses an interest in becoming a physical therapist, Bych said he would try to find someone in the profession who would be willing to speak with him or her.
Next, Bych said he dives into discussions about geography, describing where he has been and asking what places the students have visited.
“We talk about rivers, cities, mountain chains, and the nicknames we have for some cities in the world like The Big Apple and The City of Lights and The Windy City. It’s a very fun course.”
Bych also tells the students all about weather—from the difference between a warm and cold front to whySeattle,Washingtongets a lot more rain than here in the desert.
“We look at the Earth and the sun and weather patterns and the tilt of the Earth and why this causes us to have seasons,” he said. “Then we talk about time zones, atmospheric pressure, and temperatures.”
When it comes time to discuss math with the fifth graders, Bych starts out with some simple equations like, “If it’s 300 miles toLos Angelesand my plane is going 300 miles per hour, then how long will it take me to get there?”
Stressing along the way just how often he uses math in his day to day work, Bych makes the problems progressively harder; for example, asking them to calculate how much fuel a plane will use during a certain trip.
During his talk on the physics of flight, Bych explains why and how an aircraft is able to fly, why it is shaped the way it is, how propellers work, and the four forces of flight: lift, gravity, thrust and drag.
“We talk about the difference between port and starboard and airspeed versus ground speed, and why airports are laid out the way they are, and what the numbers on runways mean and why there are different colored lights on them like red, white, blue and green.”
The program culminates with a trip to Sky Harbor International Airport, where Bych takes “almost as many parent chaperones as kids” as well as the students and Christianson to a maintenance hangar, where they can see a B-737 airplane up close.
“We look under the plane, and at the radar behind fiberglass, and talk about why we have two hydraulic systems and why there are only two tires, and we look inside the cargo bin.”
Once inside the plane, anyone who wants to is allowed to sit inside the cockpit.
Bych said every year, one or two students expresses an interest in flying. If they do, Bych is ready, willing and able to help mentor them.
Regardless of what career aspirations the fifth graders might have, Bych just wants to help the students achieve their dreams.
“My passion is flying. I always wanted to fly. I love going to work every day,” he said.
“My goal is to motivate them to open up and tell us what they want to be.”
Christianson said she is extremely grateful for the time that Bych devotes to her classroom every year.
“He is the reason the program is successful,” she said.
“I like that it reinforces our classroom objectives, like geography, math, science and physics. And I also like the way Rob brings to each lesson the wisdom from his own life, explaining how to apply all of what he is talking about from day to day. It’s his personal philosophy that he imparts that makes it extra special.”
Kevin Bannon’s daughter Katie is a fifth grader atSummitSchool. The south Tempe resident said he was greatly impressed by how engaged and enthusiastic Bych was with the students.
“Katie seemed to thoroughly enjoy it and brought home stories about the cockpit and how much fun she had,” he said.
Monique Sutila’s son Alexander found it especially fascinating to learn about the aerodynamics of flight.
“I was impressed at how much information they received about aviation, flight, airplanes, what keeps them in the air and how they fly,” said Sutila, a southTemperesident.
“Mr. Bych made it fun and engaged the kids in hands-on activities like making the perfect paper airplane.”