Aviation School (Grand Rapids)

  • Local Projects
  • 2010

Dick DeVos is a businessman and former member of the Michigan State Board of Education who is keen to give families choices in the schools their children attend. He is also a jet-rated pilot. He connected these interests by founding the West Michigan Aviation Academy as a public charter school. It opened in 2010 on the grounds of the Grand Rapids airport with 80 freshmen. By 2015 there were 500 students enrolled, with room to grow. Along with its college-prep curriculum WMAA offers several aviation-related tracks: flight, engineering, aviation maintenance, and aviation business. “We try to introduce an aviation concept into everything we teach,” explains DeVos. Reading or writing assignments may be connected to flying; math problems are often presented in terms of the practical realities of navigation.

“We’re in the process of acquiring a plane and offering full flight capabilities so that individuals could graduate with their pilot’s license if that’s their interest.” The school offers a gliding program during the summer. A number of retired pilots in Grand Rapids volunteer as flight instructors. There is a radio-controlled aircraft club.

As president of the board, DeVos was involved with the school on a daily basis, and he and his wife, Betsy, donated about $5 million to get it launched. WMAA is an example of the specialized schools the charter movement is making possible—there are schools that are arts oriented, trades based, sports focused, environmentally driven, that teach in two languages, that emphasize science instruction. This particular school’s combination of academics, character training, technical instruction, and hands-on opportunities in aviation exists in no other public or private school in the U.S.