As secondary school graduation season wraps up across the nation, I am reminded of the outstanding education my son is receiving at Valley Forge Military Academy and College. Despite the uniform shared by every graduating class -- gown, mortarboard, tassel -- the education received prior to the ceremony is not always created equal. Unqualified or overwhelmed teachers, a dearth of extracurricular activities, or a failure to instill larger values can all significantly hinder a young person's growth. I hoped to satisfy all three requirements for a strong education, and therefore I sent my son to Valley Forge. Now, I could not be happier that I did.
For all of Valley Forge's credentials as an international leadership institute -- and it is, with a long list of commanding generals, commonwealth governors professional athletes among its alumni -- I had initial reservations about sending my son to a military school. The school's vernacular -- cadets instead of students, barracks instead of dormitories, commandants instead of deans -- sounded like the school placed a higher priority on manufacturing soldiers than it did preparing students for further education. However, I soon discovered that as the world has changed so have military schools like Valley Forge. Today, the institute prides itself on assimilating military values -- moral fiber, leadership, dignity and time management -- rather than reforming problem kids or creating obedient infantrymen.
Coming from France, my son quickly assimilated into the school's cosmopolitan student body. Nearly a quarter of the school's population comes from abroad, and 27 countries are represented in the student body. You won't find this level of diversity of race, ethnicity, background and opinion at many other schools, or many places generally. Most important, the school's insistence on merit-based reward means that every student who walks through the doors has a chance to prove themselves not on the basis of race or socioeconomic status, but by their character and their performance.
Valley Forge's benefits extend far beyond lectures and exams. Thanks to the Academy's pledge to develop the "whole person", multiple extracurricular activities are offered to help each student find his or her place in the bigger picture. Whether religious, social, or athletic, these programs are an invaluable complement to the rigorous academic study. Team sports, fitness challenges and ropes courses, to name a few of the physical activities, provide other avenues to build self-confidence and discipline. Each month, the non-sectarian campus chapel hosts a speaker of repute. These talks are the cornerstone of a Character Development Seminar attended by all Valley Forge cadets.
A lot has been made in recent months of the common core curriculum. Across the United States, parents, legislatures and donors grapple with the often arbitrary standard, with many states repealing the requirements in their public and charter schools. With Valley Forge, we are lucky to have exceedingly viable third option. My son, now finishing up his junior year, also known at Valley Forge as a cadet master sergeant, has benefited in myriad ways from the school's uncommon education.
Each time I see my son, he seems to have acquired a new valuable skill, whether it be of the academic, athletic or moral variety. Thanks to the encouragement of his superiors and support of his peers, his time management, leadership skills and self-confidence have taken firm root. And as we know, these skills can be just as important in a post-secondary professional setting as a firm academic foundation. Luckily, at Valley Forge my son can receive both in equal measure.