This month, beginning with National Charter Schools Week, we will feature stories from charter school graduates from across the country. Check back every day to see a new student feature in our 30 Days of Grad series.
My name is Julia, and I am a 2017 graduate of West Michigan Aviation Academy (WMAA) in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I immediately wanted to attend WMAA when I discovered it in an article; I was amazed that there is a school entirely focused around my passion. Aviation is integrated into all aspects of WMAA, and the curriculum allows students to acquire their pilot’s license. Despite the amazing attributes, it was a difficult choice for my parents because the distance between my home and WMAA is about 150 miles. They finally agreed because they knew flying was my dream. I began living with family friends and commuting back to my home in Traverse City, Michigan, each weekend starting the following school year as a sophomore.
Upon arriving at the school, I quickly found that there were more marvelous characteristics than just the opportunity to earn a pilot’s license. Staff, teachers, and students greeted me with a caring sense of community, which was very different than the large public school I came from. I was engaged and discovered my passion for learning. I learned to change an airplane tire, build and fly remote control aircraft, use a fire extinguisher, build robots, and fly simulators. I went on numerous exciting field trips, such as the Wildcat Restoration project at the Kalamazoo Airzoo in Kalamazoo, Michigan, or touring airports like the Delta Airlines operations at the Detroit Metropolitan Airport and the American Airlines operations at the Chicago O’Hare International Airport, to expand upon the realistic application of what we learn daily. I have been able to hear many guest speakers, and not only pilots, but air traffic controllers, aircraft mechanics, aviation medical doctors, and many other industry professionals. WMAA honors several students per month with merit-based awards that give free flights in our school’s Cessna 172 to foster aviation dreams and allow students a taste of flight. I have also traveled and participated in glider camp in Ionia, Michigan; the National Flight Academy camp in Pensacola, Florida; and the Women Inspiring the Next Generation (WING) flight to Seattle, Washington.
Being part of the flight program is an incredible experience. It is a group of like-minded, professional students that have a passion for learning and an understanding of the importance of safety. My first flight lesson at WMAA revealed why I enjoy flying so much in a way I could finally articulate. It began with apprehension which quickly turned to awe that flooded my mind as soon as we left the ground. While I understand the rational explanations of flight, leaving the ground behind feels nothing short of miraculous. There are few limitations, and paths are not dictated by rivers, roads, or railways. I am intensely focused on flying the plane, monitoring the instruments, stating the radio calls, reading the maps, and watching for traffic and weather, but the noises of the wind and engine is comforting and calming. There’s something special about physically removing a person from the ground and letting them see the familiar world from above that forces them to understand the concept of perspective, and suddenly my life seems to fit into the grand scheme of things.
I look forward to my future because I have chosen such an exciting endeavor. I am attending Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona, Florida, for Aeronautical Science. WMAA has had such an incredible, positive impact on my education and personal life, and has provided opportunities that inspire me and allow me to achieve my dreams.