For Dick DeVos, a bustling international airport was a perfect location to establish a high school. That’s why he chose the Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids to set up a new charter school.
The West Michigan Aviation Academy was launched in 2006 with heavy financial backing from DeVos and more than a little moral support from his wife, Betsy DeVos. She is the former U.S. Secretary of Education –- a job she would not take on until about 10 years after the founding of her husband’s innovative new school.
It’s entirely appropriate that West Michigan Aviation Academy be located at an airport because this unique school offers its 6th through 12th-grade students a chance to earn their private pilot’s license along with a high school diploma.
Dick DeVos hails from one of the wealthiest families in Michigan as does his wife. He is often referenced as “the heir to the Amway fortune” denoting the multilevel marketing home products company his father co-founded in 1959. Betsy DeVos is the daughter of Edgar Prince, a man who made a fortune in the auto parts industry.
Together, Dick and Betsy DeVos have given $7 million (as of 2014) to their new school. That includes a $3 million no-interest loan for expanding the facility and its equipment. Some of that equipment includes two Cessna airplanes used by students in pilot training.
West Michigan Aviation Academy is tuition-free to the more than 600 students now lucky enough to gain a seat there. Getting in is determined by lottery. It enjoys a $7,500 per student allowance provided by the state of Michigan.
An elite school such as this is made possible only because it has the deep-pocket backing of its benefactors, said the facility’s chief executive Patrick Cwayna. However, Dick DeVos believes this charter school represents the ideal of what American secondary education should look like for all students.