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If you had any doubts that Michigan’s charter schools offer innovative educational opportunities, all you had to do was look to the skies on May 8.

That was the day that hundreds of charter school supporters from all corners of Michigan gathered in Lansing for Charter Day at the Capitol. Held every year during National Charter Schools Week, it’s an opportunity for us to celebrate the many successes of charter school students across the state.

It’s also a time to showcase the innovation that’s taking place at Michigan’s charter schools, and this year, we took that showcase to another level.

As the crowd gathered on the morning of May 8, they looked to the skies to see a charter school student from Grand Rapids named Ashley Bogardus piloting an airplane over the Capitol. At just 1,000 feet, the plane was low enough that you could almost read the writing on the side.

Bogardus is a senior at West Michigan Aviation Academy, a highly successful charter school that’s located at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids. The school puts a heavy focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education, and it helps train students to become pilots.

So that morning, Bogardus — a high school senior, mind you — hopped into the school’s Cessna 172 and took off for Lansing. Just as our celebration was beginning, she circled the Capitol, and then she circled it again, and the crowd below roared.

They were witnessing innovation in action. Where else but at a charter school could you receive an educational opportunity like that?

Bogardus landed a short while later at the airport in Lansing, and she was driven to the Capitol. Later that morning, she spoke to a gathering inside the rotunda. The younger students in attendance were treating her like the rock star, asking for her autograph and posing for pictures with her.

Bogardus expressed how grateful she was for the opportunities she’s received at her school. “I feel that’s really what our school stands for — amazing and innovative ideas that you aren’t going to find at a (traditional) public school,” she said.

Bogardus’ story is the perfect illustration of the meaningful student success you’ll find at a charter school.

The day after Bogardus’ flight over the Capitol, U.S. News & World Report came out with its prestigious Best High Schools in America rankings. Not surprisingly, the No. 1 open-enrollment school in Michigan was a charter school, Grand River Preparatory High School in Grand Rapids. West Michigan Aviation Academy earned a Silver Medal, coming in at No. 51 (out of 1,300 high schools in Michigan).

We’ve always known that the sky’s the limit at a charter school.

Dan Quisenberry, president

Michigan Association of Public School Academies

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