The dynamic effort needed to cultivate well-rounded individuals underlines the truth behind the old adage that ‘great leaders are made, not born’. While leadership traits can also be learned through observation, the key to obtaining the knowledge and wisdom that pave the way to success is more likely to have been fast-tracked by the excellent delivery of holistic education.
One of the ways that this is done is through pursuing an education in a conducive and secure environment that incorporates both academic and military disciplines. Blending the two elements creates a pathway towards great leadership, where life skills are learned during one’s formative years.
Military schooling has often been described as the ideal “leg-up” to the world’s top colleges. Apart from an intensive focus on academic subjects, military schools inculcate valuable life skills such as time management, efficiency, mutual respect, camaraderie, and above all, valour and courage in their students. To top that off, the rigorous-yet-fun physical training involved in its education system also chisels cadets into shape. And this is all done to ensure that graduates are prepped to enter the world’s most prestigious institutions of higher education, imbuing them with a superior competitive edge over others.
One institution that offers the model mentioned above is the Valley Forge Military Academy & College (VFMAC), which strives to build leaders by developing the whole person. Nestled in Wayne, Pennsylvania in the United States, the Academy – which was established in 1928 – has built a reputation based on age-old foundations. Valley Forge is both a preparatory boarding school (grades 7-12) and a co-educational college that welcomes students from across the United States and around the world.
To prepare graduates to become highly qualified citizen leaders, VFMAC seeks to develop cadets who are committed to the democratic ideals that underpin an increasingly diverse and interdependent global society. Its cadets are also immersed in an exclusive educational experience centred on five distinctive cornerstones:
1. Academic Excellence
Valley Forge seeks to educate and develop its cadets for college entrance or transfer to university, career success and responsible citizenship. A challenging curriculum, dedicated faculty, small classes, individual attention, and faculty-supervised evening study hall sessions provide an environment conducive to attaining academic success. Being its first cornerstone, academic excellence is about the acquisition of knowledge, the development of skills and the shaping of attitudes, enabling cadets to excel academically and inspiring them to pursue education throughout life.
The Academy’s acceptance rate into top-tier four-year universities or colleges is impressive, as is proven by its track record. Of the 38 graduates of the academy in May, 2014, 36 (95 percent) applied to four-year colleges or universities upon graduation. And out of the 36 who applied, 35 were accepted into their chosen institutions as of June 1.
2. Personal Motivation
One of the Academy’s main objectives is to motivate each cadet to strive for excellence, both individually and as members of an organization, in all areas of endeavour. Personal motivation is encouraged through positive competition, recognition, loyalty, teamwork, organizational pride and the establishment of personal goals.
3. Character Development
Valley Forge emphasizes time-proven standards of conduct, ethical behaviour, integrity, spiritual values, and service to community and country. This emphasis encourages cadets to adapt and contribute to society without sacrificing the crucial values that develop strength of character, lead to honourable successes and foster love of country.
Valley Forge seeks to prepare its graduates to become educated citizen leaders. Its leadership cornerstone is centered on employing the dynamics of a military organization in its structured cadet environment. The Forge experience is designed to foster the development of individual responsibility and sound leadership skills by providing opportunities for the practical application of leadership theories in positions of increasing responsibility. Its orientation program provides a powerful and inspirational experience for the Cadet Chain of Command and all upper-class cadets through positive leadership by example.
VFMAC has a mission to prepare cadets to face responsibility with unfaltering strength and confidence, qualities that seep into every aspect of their lives and drive them towards success.
5. Physical Development
Valley Forge strives to improve the health, self-confidence and physical abilities of every cadet through an integrated program of physical education and athletic competition. This fifth cornerstone focuses on a healthy lifestyle, good physical conditioning and competitive athletic skills – the institution fosters the development of those attitudes, habits and abilities, as it believes it will lead to lifelong physical well-being.
To ensure a seamless transition from normal ‘civilian’ childhood to military lifestyle, all entering cadets at VFMAC undergo a six-week ‘orientation’, a period of training known as the Plebe System.
This initial phase encompasses incoming cadet reception, processing, training and the first six weeks of school until Recognition Day. It is a period of adjustment during which an entering cadet learns to place the concept of duty above personal desires. The Plebe System will test cadets mentally, physically and morally. Although it appears to be rigorous and demanding, it has proven to be an effective system.
The results produced by the students have not only been praised by parents, the cadets and graduates themselves attest to the cornerstones that have changed their lives for the better.
16-year-old Willian Reppert from West Grove, Pennsylvania described his academy experience as a valuable experience, transforming him into a determined young man of good moral character.
“In a country where traditional values are dissipating and formerly held standards are quickly vanishing from our society, Valley Forge Military Academy is one of the few remaining bastions of good moral character and hard work,” he said.
XiaoBin Shen, 16, from Shenzhen, China said he would not have been the person he turned out to be had he not gained the experience at the academy.
“I struggled back in China with the educational system. The homework took me hours to complete and it was difficult to understand what they were teaching in class. My mother decided to research other high schools and she felt Valley Forge stood out among the rest. I was hesitant about being here at first, but looking back, I am glad I was sent to this Academy,” he said.
This is what four international students had to say about their Valley Forge experience:
About Valley Forge Military Academy & College
Valley Forge Military Academy & College is recognised as an international leadership institution, comprised of an outstanding middle school, high school and college. The school is located just 12 miles from the buzz of Philadelphia, and provides a convenient blend of commuting and boarding options. Overall, the Forge experience is one that nurtures the development of individual responsibility and sound leadership skills, providing a wealth of opportunities for students to take charge and apply leadership theory to real-life situations.