We have approached the one year mark of my oldest son Kees (pronounced “Case”) attending St. John’s Northwestern Military Academy, a military school. Although, the one year mark isn’t the only reason for writing this, now is the time that I know, 100%, that it was the best thing we have ever done for this child.
Before I get started, I just want to say that there are so many misconceptions about military schools and there are so-many-opinions made about it that are not based on facts, just fears. That is the primary reason for writing this because before we sent Kees to St. John’s, I also knew nothing about it.
It was not the original plan to send Kees to a military school. He attended the same private Christian school from kindergarten through his sophomore year of high school. This was our plan for both of our boys, this was also how I was raised. We really didn’t know any other way. I can tell you that early on, my stomach would roll at the thought of him not sleeping under my roof.
But as all parents know, when your children hurt, you hurt more.
Why We Sent Our Son To Military School
Kees was not a happy high schooler, he didn’t have any close friends, his grades were not great, he had no thoughts of his future going into his junior year (college or military). He told us at one point when he turned 18 that his plan was to move out and get an apartment! (Keep in mind that he is 18 for the majority of his senior year). Things were not looking good. His plan for happiness, in his teenage mind, was not productive, positive or even possible. There were tears, fighting and rebellion. By rebellion I mean, hanging out with the wrong kids, lying, laziness, experimenting with the wrong things, being inconsiderate, talking back and planning to move out.
All of us were unsettled. When he wasn’t home we were nervous about what he was doing and when he was home we were arguing. It was stressful. I just couldn’t fathom that my high school boy was not happy. High school is supposed to be the best time of your life!
Misconceptions of Military School
Military schools are not:
- for bad, worthless boys
- for boys whose parents gave up
- for kids with drug problems or kids that have been arrested
- reform schools (in fact, most of the military boarding schools will not take kids that have had these issues. They are not “alternative schools” that cater to children with emotional and other difficulties)
- geared for kids that “are going into the military”.
What is Military School?
A military school is a private school that combines academics with military training. Training meaning a high level of structure, focus on teamwork and developing self discipline. The graduating classes of military schools have very high college placement stats and the graduates go to college, and military service after that, if that is the path they choose. In fact, many colleges prefer kids from military schools, as do employers, because of this self discipline they have learned.
Military schools are for kids that don’t fit the mold. For kids that get bored or distracted easily, kids that want to go to a schools like West Point, kids that want to be successful in college but don’t know how to be successful in high school. It’s for kids that are not sure of their future because the normal high school is too abstract and undirected. It’s for kids that can make good choices and succeed when the noise is tuned out for them on a campus with fewer distractions. And it is also for kids that choose to be there. There are boys that plan on being there and families that have traditions there.
It was unbelievably stressful leaving Kees there when he didn’t want to be there at first. Oh my gosh, his face would literally turn gray the day before we would bring him back after a weekend home. I wouldn’t sleep. He said he wanted to come home every weekend, which is not allowed. However, his grades improved, he made friends, made the basketball team, and after a few months there he was awarded “most motivated cadet of the month”. He ended his junior year by receiving the Commandant’s Medal, which is awarded to the most outstanding undergrad cadet in the entire school for the year. Kees won this honor at the end of his first year.
The tears turned from sadness into joy. I’ve never seen him smile so much.
This year is Kees’s senior year. He started the year by being promoted to the rank of Commander, in charge of 35 other cadets. The phone call he made to tell me about this promotion I will treasure in my heart forever. I have never heard him in his 18 years so breathless and overwhelmed with pure, unadulterated joy. Because of this promotion, his name is on the building he lives in, he has his own room and has responsibilities I can’t even imagine. As Commander, it means he has 35 cadets in Echo Company that report to him. They call him sir! He also was elected to the Honor Committee (which is the internal discipline committee) even though the qualification was that you have to be there at least 2 years. He made the JROTC Raider Challenge team which only has 12 team members out of 50 cadets that try out. His Company (Echo) just received “most outstanding corp” for the first quarter, which hasn’t happened in Echo Company in ten years.
Not only is it rewarding, it is this process of learning his strengths and weaknesses. So many of us have no idea what we are good at until we are adults. He has already learned that he is a natural leader, that having people report to you is a huge responsibility, that there is a direct correlation between effort and reward. More importantly he is learning that if he puts his mind to something he CAN get it.
I miss him every-single-day. Yes, I will always feel like I was cheated time with him as a high schooler. However, when I talk to him and he can’t stop talking about all the things he has to do, that he didn’t get to sit down all day, that he had his cadets outside until 10:30 at night practicing drills, that he received his volunteer cord, that he donated blood, that he picked up a fellow cadet by the belt and pushed him to finish the race, then I remember that missing him is the best thing that could have ever happened.
This is exactly what he needed. There is no more worrying about his present and less worry about his future. All of the time I am missing him and wishing he was home has already paid off in that big smile on his face and in celebrations of achievements.
It’s always easier to not make hard decisions, to hope for the best. But as someone once said, hope is not a strategy. For one of my boys, this was the best strategy.
One day he will thank us for it.
Everyday I thank God for letting me be his mother.
This post originally appeared at Just Browsing.