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Loyalist (B)Log

The Baccalaureate Tradition at RLA

With uncertain origins that date back to the Middle Ages as well as deep ties to religion, a baccalaureate service may seem old-fashioned, outdated and unnecessary. The truth is baccalaureate services remain a popular part of commencement exercises at many high schools and universities – although the service itself has changed significantly in the last few hundred years.

What hasn’t changed is that a baccalaureate service is a celebration of a senior graduating class with a speaker, often a community leader or priest, who praises the students’ achievements. It is often described as a more emotional, toned down part of commencement than the actual graduation ceremony itself – a time when the students are reflecting on what they’ve accomplished; that they are becoming adults; and that they will need the help of family, friends, their community and, often, their faith to successfully navigate the next journey of their lives.

This aspect of reflection is why the baccalaureate service is an integral part of Robert Land Academy’s Graduation Parade and Closing Ceremonies. Our students often have much to reflect on; many achievements and accomplishments to take pride in; a newfound maturity as they head into adulthood; and, of course, the support not only of family and friends but of the staff and students of the Academy.

At RLA the graduating students have an integral role in planning Graduation, especially the baccalaureate service. They meet with me early in the spring to discuss their ideas for their graduation, including choosing which member of the RLA staff they will ask to be the baccalaureate speaker. This decision is a major milestone in our students’ journeys and one they, and the staff, don’t take lightly. Studying at RLA is not always an easy experience and our students are asked to meet some pretty high expectations, both in and out of the classroom.

In choosing the Baccalaureate speaker the graduates are asked to nominate staff and speak to the reasons they believe they want that staff member to share a last piece of advice with them before the graduating class leaves the Academy.

I’ve mentioned this before, but one member of the Class of 2019 puts it best when asked if he likes being at RLA as his answer is always “I appreciate RLA.”

What that means is that when students arrive on campus they are usually not thrilled with the idea of a boarding school and being away from home and friends; that they don’t always enjoy the highly structured living and learning environment that the military theme here provides; and that they very likely have disagreed with one, or more, of the staff on one, or more, occasion; but that by the time they graduate, they appreciate what the school has taught them and they understand how much they’ve grown and accomplished while they have been here. And most, if not all, of the graduating class has come to realize how much they needed RLA.

Knowing this is how many of our graduates feel about the Academy, the staff are honoured when asked to be baccalaureate speaker because they understand exactly what that means to each and every student on campus.

Academic Officer Capt. Simmons was asked to be the Baccalaureate Speaker in 2017 and told me “it was obviously an honour to be nominated as the baccalaureate speaker, especially since I am surrounded by and work with an invested and dedicated staff”.

Capt. Simmons went on to say “being nominated by the graduating class also carries a sense of irony and even humour. Most students arrive at the Academy with a grandiose sense of self-importance and entitlement. They arrive impervious to instruction and deaf to advice. They believe work ethic is like an appendix – something they have heard about but not necessary to survival. They don’t need to hear wisdom because they already know everything. As they near graduation and the uncertainty of their futures, the process of electing a baccalaureate speaker forces them to maturely and willingly ask for guidance – something they would not have done in the past.”

This year, the graduation class asked Capt. Simmons to be their baccalaureate speaker because they consider him a mentor and role model.

It was a tough decision for these young to make, but they did so maturely and respectfully. From the numerous names put forward the boys whittled the list down to three and then struggled to choose just one, agreeing they all respected all three staff members and considered all of them role models. During the discussion the students referred to Capt. Simmons’ teaching style, noting he didn’t lecture but taught to them and that in one-on-one conversations Capt. Simmons always tailored his comments to the individual student.  The students told me they believe he cares about them.

I look forward to hearing what Capt. Simmons shares with the graduating students, and their parents, at the Graduate Dinner on June 14.

The Robert Land Academy Gala Event

This past Saturday (April 6th), RLA held its annual gala at the National Club in Toronto.  It was an evening to acknowledge our Graduates, honour this year’s recipient of the John Brant Award and remember and reflect on the Academy’s 40 Years of helping students reach their potential.

After a wine reception and silent auction, the formal ceremonies began with a focus on students as the 2019 graduation class marched on the colours of our country and the academy.  Our Head Boy Daniel H., Parade Sargent Major Luke W. and Aides de Camp Pan L. and August B. were supported by members of the graduating class.

Every time I see our students march on, wearing their Scarlet tunics and carrying the colours, I am struck by what an impressive sight they make but in the beautiful setting of The National Club dining room, with parents and special guests in attendance, this was an even more striking and memorable moment.

After performing this duty our graduates were introduced by our Deputy Headmaster Dr. Harley, who highlighted each grad’s chosen field of study and noted the remarkable improvement in their academic performance since enrolling at RLA. This year’s class have been receiving acceptance letters on an almost daily basis since applications were sent out, and while not quite 100%  of the grads have received acceptance to post-secondary institutions, we are very close and I am confident that as the weeks go on those students awaiting acceptance into Engineering and Business programs will see this occur.

I am always proud of all of our students, and on Saturday evening, watching the grads and NCOs welcome our guests, march on the colours and come to attention as they were introduced, knowing how hard they have worked to get to this point, I couldn’t have been more proud to be Headmaster of RLA.

After a wonderful dinner and being shown fantastic hospitality and service by the staff of the National Club, I had the honour of speaking about RLA’s 40 year history.  Although 40 years seems like a long time in fact, in regards to other private schools, we are quite young.  In 1978 our founder, Scott Bowman, put together a school in a rural location (to be honest it used to be a pig farm) which focused on structure and values.   Five years later the school built its first permanent academic building and the decision was made to create a campus that mirrored a British Fort during the early 19th Century.  From these beginnings the school has grown to include three barracks (residences), a PE/Atheltic complex (Ivey Hall), a mess hall (Landholme Hall), an administration building (Ritchie Hall) and a few other buildings that support the residential, academic, and physical training aspects of the school.  As the school evolved so did the importance of the five values: Loyalty, Labour, Commitment, Courage and Honour, as they have become part of the Academy and a teaching tool to develop character in the students. As well, leadership opportunities became part of a program that strove to create a highly structured living and learning environment.  The military theme also evolved during this time with the premise, to quote our founder, “not to create soliders, but good citizens”.

My second task of the evening was to introduce The John Brant Award.  Created in the spring of 2017 by the Academy’s Board of Governors, the award seeks to recognize leaders in our community who exemplify the five values of RLA (Loyalty, Labour, Courage, Commitment and Honour).  The award is named after John Brant as a leader who demonstrated these values during his lifetime which saw him serve as a solider, government official (both elected and appointed) and a champion of education who worked toward the creation of schools for the Mohawks.

This year’s recipient of the award, General Walter Natynczyk (retired), was introduced by Board Member Captain Nick Desphande, who took time to share General Natynczyk’s career with those gathered. The former Chief of Defence Staff and president of Canada’s Space Agency, General Natynczyk served in the Canadian Armed Forces for almost four decades and has been a strong leader whose career truly exemplifies the Academy’s values.

This year’s recipient of the award, General Walter Natynczyk (retired), was introduced by Board Member Captain Nick Desphande, who took time to share General Natynczyk’s career with those gathered. The former Chief of Defence Staff and president of Canada’s Space Agency, General Natynczyk served in the Canadian Armed Forces for almost four decades and has been a strong leader whose career truly exemplifies the Academy’s values.

An amicable, gracious and outgoing figure who not only commands respect but is impossible not to like, General Natynczyk was the highlight of the evening as he spoke about how he wished there was a school like RLA when he was a student - a school which supports a student in academics and physical training. As well, he reminded our students of the importance of maintaining your values and set of beliefs no matter what you do, and your role in life. Too often, he stated, people change and forget what is important as their roles in life change.

Given that one of the reasons for RLA establishing The John Brant Award was to demonstrate to students the link between leadership and the school’s values with success and an individual’s impact in the world, I was happy to hear this message from General Natynczyk.

The Robert Land Academy Gala Event is a special evening that allows us to recognize the important work we do in helping young men reach their potential; honour those who inspire us and live an exemplary life; and come together in support of The Academy and our students. I have heard from many of our guests that it was a most enjoyable event, and I look forward to next year’s Gala.

Reflections from Bataan Memorial Death March

Six students, two staff members and I just returned from the Bataan Memorial Death March in New Mexico. Robert Land Academy has been involved with this event for more than 10 years as a result of a relationship the Academy enjoys with General Jack Fox and the New Mexico National Guard.

The event, often hailed by regular marathon participants as one of the hardest they have taken part in, has become an opportunity for participants to prove something to themselves.  I know many of our students will take much pride in getting “another patch” on their uniform.  The Bataan badge is a symbol of accomplishment and certainly something to be proud of.

I have written before in this blog about why we do The Fall Exercise just five weeks after the start of a school year – building confidence, developing a growth mindset, and demonstrating to the students just what they’re capable of. Bataan is another one of those situations that requires students to overcome obstacles, push through difficulty, develop resilience and really learn something about themselves.

This year at one of the check points I met a lady from Washington State and I asked her why she was marching. Her answer was impactful, as she told me she was doing the march for two reasons. The first is that she had worked with service men and women as well as veterans and by marching she was honouring them. Her second reason was what really struck me. She shared with me that she had been diagnosed with cancer and was told that she had little chance to survive. She wanted to show she could beat cancer, by marching last year and this year in the honourary march. Next year she plans to complete the full march.

It is stories like this and seeing the “wounded warriors”, those veterans who complete the march with missing or prosthetic limbs or other injuries, that make me realize why we as a school participate in events like this.  To teach honour, to teach the value of resilience, to look to those who are role models and  in some small way try to be like them.

During our travel back to Niagara I spoke with the six students who took part in this year’s march. What I heard is that our students grasp the significance of this event; understand what it takes to complete the march; respect those veterans whom the march honours; and have learned a little something about themselves as well.

I am proud of our team, not only for completing the Bataan Memorial Death March but also for their conduct on the trip; for their respect of the New Mexico National Guard and General Fox; for their persistence and dedication in preparing for the march; and for their insights into both the reason for the march and their own abilities as well.

The Secrets Behind RLA's Wrestling Success

As with all schools, our Loyalists sports teams have more success in some sports than we do in others. One of the teams that has enjoyed consistent success over the years is RLA’s Wrestling team.

The team is coached by two staff members who have a great deal of wrestling and coaching experience.

Dr. Brown, one of our talented and dedicated teachers, wrestled through school, including while at university, and coached a Georgetown, ON high school team for three years before joining RLA. In Georgetown Dr. Brown saw one wrestler win at OFSAA (Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations), one win at Junior Nationals and the team win the Regional championships. He joined RLA 15 years ago and has been coaching our wrestlers ever since.

Capt. Dyson also wrestled through school and in university and he wrestled while he served in the Canadian military. He joined RLA six years ago, recently being promoted to Company Commander in B COY, and has been coaching wrestling at RLA ever since. Dyson has a gold medal from the British Columbia Winter Games, despite being the underdog in that tournament.

So not only do both of our wrestling coaches have a great deal of experience, they have personal success in the sport and a passion for wrestling as well.

I asked them what it is they like about the game and they both offered the same answer – it’s an individual sport and wrestlers have nothing but themselves to rely on.

“You make it or break it on your own,” Capt. Dyson told me.

“There’s no equipment, no aids. It’s just you and you alone,” explained Dr. Brown.

For a wrestler on a mat facing a single opponent this is very true – no bat or ball; no teammate; not even protective equipment. Wrestlers have to depend on their training, their strength – both mental and physical, and their perseverance.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about how proud I am of our students, specifically the wrestling team  for their conduct at a recent tournament and how other parents and coaches commented on our team’s conduct.

Dr. Brown explained to me that the way all wrestlers conduct themselves is one of the things he loves about the sport. There is a lot of class in the sport and wrestlers maintain their composure. There is no showing off or taunting, no cheering or jeering.

“Everyone knows they can be beat,” explains Dr. Brown so wrestlers don’t chirp at each other knowing they could be on the mat next.

Everything you’ve done, all your training, all your knowledge, is all on the mat, says Capt. Dyson, and wrestlers tend to “leave it all on the mat.”

Over the years Robert Land Academy’s wrestlers have taken their training and knowledge to the mat and come up with successful bouts and tournaments. Have we dominated the sport? No. Have we taken every title and trophy there is to win in our area of competition? No. But, for a small school with a small wrestling team, our wrestlers have enjoyed a great deal of success on the mat. Last year one of our wrestlers went to Nationals and earned a third place medal; we have one OFFSA champion; and 9 SOSSA (Southern Ontario Secondary School Association) champs who have a combined total of 13 gold medals.

This year RLA’s wrestling team consists entirely of rookie wrestlers, competing in their first year in the sport. Despite this, we have brought home some medals and seen our wrestlers win matches against older, more experienced competitors.

Both coaches chalk RLA’s success up to our boys being more physically fit than their opponents and being able to listen to the coaches when they’re training and competing.

Both coaches agree that RLA’s unique program that includes regular physical fitness as a compulsory part of education as well as the structure and expectations that teaches the boys to listen and respond to teaching, coaching and counsel from staff, is why RLA students find success in the sport.

“The boys are fit and work hard,” says Dr. Brown of our small team, with Capt. Dyson telling me the boys “buy in” to the coaches and listen to what they are being taught.

As a small team with all rookie wrestlers, RLA’s wrestling program focuses a great deal on the basics rather than fancy moves that might earn you a point or two.

The initial takedown in wrestling is one of the most important moves in a match, and our boys have been learning the double-leg takedown, a basic technique that can win a match.

“It’s a pleasure watching them work that technique,” Capt. Dyson tells me.

Dr. Brown says the team works on arm bars, for example, a basic technique not many other clubs spend a great deal of time on. What that means is that when one of our wrestlers uses an arm bar their opponent doesn’t know how to counteract the move, find it very painful and end up on the mat within a short period of time.

Focusing on those basics, after watching what RLA’s competitors are doing on the mat and finding their weaknesses, is one of RLA’s strategies for success, says Dr. Brown. The other is our physical fitness – which allows RLA wrestlers to maintain stamina and strength through the second round of matches when everyone else is getting tired.

While RLA wrestlers win matches and have won medals at tournaments this year, there is no guarantee for success in the regional and provincial tournaments coming up, although RLA has been wrestling well, has been training hard, and our boys have persevered through those first weeks and months of training when you get beat up pretty good at practice and in matches. We have a shot, the coaches tell me, but were careful to keep from getting my hopes up too high.

RLA hosts our Zone championship tournament on Feb. 13 and we are looking forward to wrestling our local competitors on home turf. After that, SOSSA will be Feb. 20th. Wrestlers who place in the top two at SOSSA will head to OFSAA in March.

Like the rest of the staff, I’m looking forward to watching our rookie team – who all work well together – take it to the mat in February.

The Father Son Day Tradition

 “It is not flesh and blood but the heart which makes us fathers and sons.” Friedrich Schiller

The importance of a father’s role in his son’s, and daughter’s, life cannot be understated. This is why one of our most important and most favourite events at Robert Land Academy is Father Son Day.

Father Son Day, coming up this year on Saturday, February 2, is a day to simply be silly – but it didn’t start out that way.

When the school was founded 40 years ago, or shortly after, the day was actually more of a winter fair  with all of the activities taking place outdoors and most of the competitions requiring serious strength and stamina – sawing wood and arm wrestling, for example. In the early days dads were not involved at all and it was simple a day of winter activities for students between semesters.

As with all outdoor events it was also heavily dependent on the weather. No snow, rain, or temperatures too low to spend any length of time outdoors could all derail the activities planned for the day.

Over the years the day has changed and adapted to overcome some of the challenges, to include dads, and become a day that is just about having a good time.

We plan activities that give our students and their dads (or grandpas or uncles as the case may be) an opportunity to have a positive and fun day with lots of laughing. The events usually include  a crazy  hat contest, a tricycle race (which can become a little aggressive), live action hungry-hungry-hippos, an egg toss, a pudding eating contest and a hot dog eating contest. We also have chili and hot chocolate on all day to keep everyone warm and a big dinner at the end of the day.

I’m not sure many people would allow someone to feed them pudding blindfolded, yet it’s as much fun to watch as it is to participate in.

One of the really great activities we plan is a drill contest. What this means is that the cadets need to take all of the lessons they have learned in drill while on campus and use them to teach their fathers.

I really enjoy this part of the day, and staff say it is one of their favourite activities as well, because it is a lot of fun watching the boys teach drill to their dads. It’s an important life moment as well, when a boy has the opportunity to teach his dad and show his own skills.

When it is all said and done there are trophies presented for best team, best father and best son so it is not all fun and games. There is a huge competitive component as well.

Everyone – students, dads and staff – are having so much fun on Father Son Day it might be hard to see how important this day is for both our students and the staff – myself included.

I say it’s a day simply to be silly but it’s also a day that gives us some real insight into our students. We often see the boys having fun and acting goofy, whether they’re shooting hoops for fun; playing in the snow; or enjoying one of the many fun activities we plan. And we see the boys with their families, on parent teacher days or during Annual Inspection. What we don’t often see is boys being silly and goofy with their families. We see the boys in a different way on Father Son Day and we usually learn something about the boys as well. The more we know about our students the better we can meet their needs and help them achieve success.

The day also gives fathers and sons an opportunity to interact in a positive environment, without worrying about grades or behaviour or any of the factors that contributed to the boy being enrolled at RLA. This time of silliness hopefully helps rebuild relationships that may have been strained in the past so for them it is a new chapter in their relationship.

The other aspect of Father Son Day is that not every student at RLA has a father involved in his life or a father who can travel to RLA for the day. Those boys aren’t left out – they’re “adopted” by other dads for the day and have just as much fun as the rest of the academy. To see the interaction of the fathers with not only their own son but also with the boys that don’t have a father present is very rewarding.

The day also gives dads some insight as to how things work at RLA and a chance to meet faculty and staff. When families are on campus it is usually for a more serious purpose – parent interviews for example. So seeing how the boys interact and how staff work with each other and with the students offers a new way of seeing the Academy.

It’s a meaningful day for fathers to connect with the staff at RLA who have so much positive influence in their sons’ life.

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