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High school ‘Aviation Academy’ is like shop class, but with airplanes

WHEELING, Ill. — It's tough not going full-throttle when your classroom is an airfield, and your textbook is a Cessna.

Nearly 200 students from District 214 in the northwest suburbs are getting hands-on training at Wheeling's Executive Airport for the "Aviation Academy." The first of its kind, the elective offering lets students gain both college credit and an FAA-level certification.

"The program has been hugely popular since we launched it this year," said Dan Weidner, Director of Academic Programs for District 214.

High School students learn aviation maintenance, safety drills, theory and regulations that are required to have a career in the field of aviation. They not only learn the nuts and bolts of how to work on planes and helicopters, but also get college credit with Lewis University's aviation program for every hour spent in the hanger.

"I was shocked to see this is an elective, because there's just not a lot of aviation programs in the U.S.," Prospect High School senior Kendall Jordan Morrow said. "I was pretty excited 'cause this is exactly what I want to do in the future."

Lewis University's Chris Stevens says it's a win-win as the need for plane and helicopter mechanics soars. He estimates Boeing will need 754,000 mechanics by 2037.

"This is really exciting because our students at the high school level can explore an area that they never really could before," Stevens said.

The Aviation Academy courses are offered at all six high schools in district District 214; although every course is already at capacity. For more information on the partnership with Lewis University, check out

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