In Grand Rapids, Michigan, the West Michigan Aviation Academy strives to provide an exceptional education while equipping students with career skills in aviation and engineering. The Academy is a tuition-free charter school begun in 2010 by Dick DeVos, former president of Amway Corp. Like most charter schools, West Michigan strives to offer the focus and individualized education of a private school, while still remaining accessible to families who could otherwise not afford such an education.
The school is situated across from the main terminal at Gerald Ford airport in Grand Rapids. The main focus is aviation, but, as CEO Patrick Cwayna says, aviation is “just the hook that gets them in. We slip in math and science along the way.” Indeed, among other things. The Academy is a STEM school, focusing on science, technology, engineering, and math. Students are encouraged to pursue not just aviation, but robotics and modeling, as well as varsity-level sports.
The model seems to be working. West Michigan Aviation Academy has seen impressive growth. The school opened in 2010 with only eighty students, all in the ninth grade. The expected enrollment for the 2015 school year was five hundred, with students chosen by lottery and commuting up to an hour one way to attend.
The schools founder, Dick DeVos, has been involved in aviation since he was a small boy. His father founded Amway Corp, and DeVos recalls being involved in every aspect of the business from a young age. This involvement grew into a career with Amway, where he worked his way through several departments before being appointed a Vice President and eventually, President of the company. He is a longtime advocate for the privatization of education, having campaigned for a voucher system in Michigan that would have opened private education to students of all income levels. When the voucher system failed to pass the state legislature, DeVos turned his efforts to other methods of accessible schooling and, in 2010, combined his love of aviation with a passion for education to create the West Michigan Aviation Academy, something, he says, he was strongly encouraged to do by his wife, Betsy.