New Program Another Example of How VFMA’s Cadets Learn Critical Skills Beyond Those Taught in the Classroom

Images via Valley Forge Military Academy.

Since 1928, cadets at Valley Forge Military Academy have learned about leadership, character development, and self-discipline. These days, they also learn how to fix a leaky pipe and perform CPR, thanks to a new program called Life Skills Education.

“Last year, the senior staff was talking about the things some of our cadets were missing out on in their education,” said Dr. Paul Lea, Dean of VFMA.

Afterwards, Dr. Lea and Colonel J.J. Rivera, Commandant of Cadets, brainstormed and came up with a list of 100 things they wished they had learned when they were that age, like how to change a tire or balance a checkbook. Along with input from cadets and parents, they developed a curriculum of 10 skills that cadets rotate through for eight sessions each. Classes are considered extra-curricular and are not graded.

“Besides the gain in knowledge for the cadets, a goal of this program was to have non-teachers conducting the courses in order to keep the students on campus and not burden the current faculty,” said Col. Rivera. “After writing our list of potential courses, we said, ‘I think this person on staff would know how to do this,’ and we crafted the classes around their subject matter capabilities.”

Indeed, from VFMA’s Chief Financial Officer to its Alumni Director, staff members have stepped up and volunteered their expertise as Life Skills instructors to the middle school and high school cadets. One example is George Else, Director of Facilities, who teaches the Do-It-Yourself class.

According to Col. Rivera, cadets who take the DIY class learn about plumbing and other skills that will serve them later in life.

“Each cadet will learn things so they will be able to take care of their own homes by the time they are 18 and find themselves in an apartment or branching out in their own space,” he said. “George takes them through the basics of carpentry, plumbing, demolition, and things like how to wire an outlet. It’s ‘hands-on’ and everything is here on campus.”

One instructor who is not on staff is a mother of a cadet who is a registered CPR trainer and volunteered her time to get all the cadets certified in CPR. Also, an individual from an outside organization visits campus to give computer software instruction for the App Coding Skills class.

Other courses in the Life Skills curriculum include Self-Defense, Woodsmanship, Theater and Set Design, Aviation, Leadership, Personal Fitness, and Applying to College for Juniors and Sophomores. In the latter course, Breanna Barnett, Guidance Counselor for juniors and seniors, teaches application essay writing and brings in seniors who have been accepted at a college who can share their own experiences in navigating through the application process.

As the instructor for the Woodsmanship course, Col. Rivera sees firsthand how engaged cadets are in learning new skills.

“We just built a rope bridge for a river crossing using the knots they learned,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun, and no class is the same. And because cadets are kept in their different age groups, as a facilitator I can adjust the classes from basic learning with the seventh-graders to advanced learning with the seniors, so we can be flexible.”

According to Dr. Lea, the Life Skills curriculum will always be evolving as new courses will be considered in upcoming semesters. These include a course introducing cadets to the Microsoft suite of products, such as Excel and PowerPoint, and a course exploring different careers and job opportunities cadets can pursue.     

“There has been a lot of positive reaction from the cadets,” said Dr. Lea. “When we initiated the Life Skills class, they realized it was something completely different than what they had at public school. The program is keeping them active, it’s something different, and they are learning new skills. They are appreciating it now, and as time goes by, they will appreciate it even more when they realize their peers have not been taught what they are learning.”

Learn more about Valley Forge Military Academy and College.

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