When our admission counselors answer the phone in the Office of Admission, the conversation typically pivots to two common refrains: “my son needs help” and “I hope that Army and Navy Academy can provide a solution.” Over the past two years, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated an already-growing educational and mental health crisis. Teenage boys have struggled to connect through remote learning. The cancelation of athletic programs and such community-based activities as the Boy Scouts, arts councils, and church youth groups has led to an even greater sense of isolation and loss.
Most independent, private, and public schools are not intentionally designed to accommodate and support boys that, for a variety of reasons, have felt overlooked and left out. Fortunately, niche schools like Army and Navy Academy exist. Over the years, we have developed an intentional and research-based program to give boys a second chance to be successful. There are two salient reasons why, with the appropriate level of cadet motivation, our program produces effective results: First, through our military and leadership development opportunities, we provide a strong sense of personal connection between our cadets and adults. With multiple daily formations, supervised study halls, homework checks, and mandatory physical fitness or athletics, cadets step into a predictable routine that is built around structure and accountability. Second, our small school size enables us to make sure that every cadet lives up to his full potential. Boys can’t hide! Nobody falls through the cracks! We know, understand, and can ultimately support the unique attributes of each cadet.
The inherit strength of our program is built upon the foundation of a highly enthusiastic and dedicated faculty. They hold office hours, create invigorating and interactive classroom environments, and show up to support and cheer cadets on at school-sponsored events outside the classroom. In addition to being inspirational teachers, they care for and understand boys. Because our cadets develop such positive relationships with faculty, they routinely do not want to disappoint them. With this high level of engagement, our faculty can offer up an aspirational challenge and our cadets are eager to dive in.
Our TAC (Teacher, Advisor, Coach) Officers come onto campus at 2PM, just as cadets are finishing up the academic day. For the next 9 hours, they coordinate, mentor, and supervise. Each cadet is assigned a TAC. These gentlemen are the tip of the spear for our immersive educational experience. Many become important confidants and father figures to their cadets. With the unique combination of a caring faculty and involved TACs, every cadet is connected to multiple advocates who, at various and appropriate times, can lean in and provide the right amount of support and guidance.
The formal administration support structures that are woven into the supervision and development of the cadet experience are a uniquely defining feature of Army and Navy Academy. We have a highly experienced and professionally trained counseling staff that oversees the social and emotional development of every cadet. From day one, each cadet is assigned a counselor who will become their personal “wellness” adviser. In addition, the Dean of Academics, the Assistant Dean, the Commandant of Cadets, and the Cadet Life staff all work in a unified and coordinated manner to make sure that cadets are set up for success every day. Along with the Director of Counseling, they meet at designated times during the week to identify and discuss cadets who need additional emotional or academic support. Together, they tailor an action plan that is delivered to the cadet and to the adults who interact with him throughout the day. This level of personalized attention is at the heart of the Army and Navy Academy experience.
While it is vital that we have systems in place to support the development of our cadets, the ultimate driver of success is that cadets must buy-in and invest the personal energy required to navigate the daily challenges of our program. Simply put, the Academy cannot force, demand, or impose change. Rather, we can intentionally set high expectations and establish a helping community that encourages cadets to fully embrace the opportunities before them. Over time, as cadets become better acclimated to the Academy and more trusting of the adults, we can elevate our expectations of them. The overarching goal is to help cadets become better self-disciplined and more self-directed.
We speak often on campus about the ideal of the “virtuous man.” The more thoroughly a cadet embraces that ideal, the deeper their commitment becomes to honoring the new Brotherhood that they have joined. This transformation from plebe to cadet to brother is when the magic of ANA finally takes root. The often lost and listless boy that a parent first dropped off to campus ultimately grows up and into a strong, resilient, and morally responsible man.
Given the prevailing “boy crisis” confronting our society, there is no question that our culture craves the type of leaders and men that Army and Navy Academy produces. As Andrew Yang declared in his February 8th, 2022 Washington Post editorial, entitled The data are clear: The boys are not all right: “Helping boys and men succeed should be a priority for all our society’s institutions. Schools that have succeeded in keeping boys on track should be expanded, by both increasing the number of students they serve and exporting their methods to other schools.” We agree and stand resolute, as we have for over well over a century, in our mission to shape and form the lives of boys.