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Loyalist (B)Log

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.

Noticeable in a Positive Way

We are always proud of our students for working hard to meet the expectations Robert Land Academy sets, in all aspects of school life including athletics, academics, and personal behavior.  It isn’t always easy and students will struggle to maintain those expectations from time to time. It is worth it, however, as students learn self-discipline, improve their academics and enroll in post-secondary institutions, and develop the life skills necessary to be successful in all aspects of life.

It may seem odd, but this was most apparent late last week as Robert Land Academy hit the wrestling mats at another local high school.

We were successful in the wrestling tournament, bringing home three silver medals and watching as our small team of wrestlers improved their skills, learned some lessons to use in their next bouts, and developed both physical and mental strength, and I was very proud of the boys for their performance.

I was most proud however, when I heard how others at the tournament spoke of our students.

A few other coaches and parents from other teams commented on how our students conducted themselves at the tournament, noting “they seem like such nice boys” and that we are “doing something right at RLA”.

As our wrestling coach put it – the boys were noticeable in a positive way.

It’s not that boys from other schools are misbehaving or conduct themselves poorly, and I’m sure boys from other schools are just as nice as our students. The difference, and the reason parents and coaches at this tournament noticed and mentioned RLA’s conduct, is in how our students carry themselves and their deportment.

The unique program at Robert Land Academy is based in military structure. Both staff and students address each other with respect and by title or “sir” or “ma’am”, students practice drill on a regular basis and walk in formation between classes, they are expected to act with proper manners at all times, and they are taught how to live life with courage, commitment, loyalty, labour and honour.

So how does this translate into a wrestling team being noticeably positive in an environment full of high school students from numerous other schools? The proper conduct they learn at RLA, as well as the pride they take in their achievements, is visible in our students. From their straight backs and good posture to being respectful to each other and to those they meet, from performing their best at all times to accepting defeat with grace and good sportsmanship, from taking care of their appearance and taking pride in themselves to saying sir and ma’am when appropriate: Robert Land Academy students are learning how to conduct themselves in a way that shows respect and commands respect, and it shows.

And it’s not just the wrestling team. All of our students conduct themselves in this way and all of our students make us proud when their deportment demonstrates their understanding of the importance of respect, for ourselves and for each other. 

Engaging Parents of RLA: Parent Teacher Day

A few weeks ago we sent out early assessment reports. These aren’t report cards but rather a quick snapshot of how each boy is doing academically so staff and parents can address any issues, encourage boys to put in the effort to improve their grades, or find out why a student might be struggling in one area.

On Friday we issued the first actual report cards each student will receive this school year as part of our Parent Teacher Day.

Parent Teacher Day at RLA is significantly different than parent teacher interviews in most other schools. There’s a reason we call it a “day”.

All staff work hard to put this day together. Our maintenance crew always makes sure the campus is in top shape but often spruce things up where needed – this year the halls in Loyalist (the classroom building) got a new coat of paint and some posters depicting life on campus; the kitchen staff baked up some goodies and brewed lots of coffee for parents who had travelled great distances to be here (not to mention a hearty and delicious lunch for staff); the academic staff worked long hours to ensure report cards were ready to go and every parent who wanted to meet with a teacher had the time to do so; and the administration team made sure everything worked perfectly. They all did a great job and I know the parents noticed.

Parents are invited to the Academy to meet with their sons’ section officer (the teacher who oversee a small group of boys largely to look after academics and be a parental figure), pick up report cards, and – the most important part of the day according to the cadets – pick up their sons for Stand Down for a visit home.

Parents also have the option to meet with individual teachers during this day and many take advantage of the opportunity to learn a bit more about what their sons are learning, make a connection to their sons’ school life and, occasionally, check up on marks.

For senior students time is taken to discuss their options for university and in particular choosing which university and programs he should apply to.

It’s an exciting day for RLA parents who don’t have the opportunity to stop by the school on a regular basis, both because they live too far away to make it practical and because our structure doesn’t make it possible for regular visits or school events.

All of the parents I had the opportunity to chat with on Friday were very happy to be here and appreciative of the opportunity to meet and talk to teachers. We know that the boarding school nature of the Academy makes it more difficult for parents to feel involved in their child’s school and education which is why we create a day for these important teacher meetings and why we plan other days for parents to be on campus.

The best part of the day, of course, is watching as parents finish their interviews and students are called to sign out for the weekend. Lots of hugs, lots of smiles and even some tears. 

And when all the parents have left campus, the teachers sit down to call each of the parents who could not attend in person for phone interviews. It’s important that every parent has an opportunity to discuss their son’s education with his teachers and our staff do a great job accommodating them all.

Because of the unique nature of Robert Land Academy, days like these are important in creating a school community inclusive of parents, guardians and other family members. But it’s days like these that make RLA the unique place it is as families from all over the world come together with a common bond – the best education for their son.

I had to laugh as some of our parents from Mexico complained of the cold (running out to buy hats and mitts that morning) while other parents from Northern Ontario were comfortable in just a spring jacket.

Whether they came from Ontario, Mexico or further afield, or could only be here via a telephone connection, I’m glad our RLA families took the time to be part of this important day for their son’s success and I’m proud of the work of all of our staff who make these days not only possible, but enjoyable and meaningful as well.

The Five Values continued

Over the past several weeks I’ve been talking to the students about the five values of Robert Land Academy – Loyalty, Labour, Courage, Commitment and Honour – and how these values can be lived in our everyday lives here on campus and throughout life.

My last blog I touched on why we have the values as well as Loyalty and Labour. This week I would like to share the talk I had with the students on Courage and Commitment.

Courage is often misunderstood as a lack of fear. It’s actually the ability to do something despite being afraid or the strength to face pain or grief.

At RLA sometimes just showing up is an act of courage. New students don’t know what to expect; they hear “military school” and wonder if it will be like boot camp, or worse; and they’re going to be away from family and friends, often for the first time. It can certainly be a scary experience.

Once here, courageous acts happen daily, if not hourly, as students take on new roles, learn new skills, or tackle difficult academic lessons.

In a much broader sense, and the kind of courage we want our students to take with them throughout their lives, Robert Land Academy sees courage as making changes, when necessary, to improve yourself; making the right choice, even when the right choice is the difficult choice; respecting yourself and others in all situations; and upholding your personal values and beliefs when they are challenged.

When we make a commitment we make a promise to be constant in our effort to realize a goal, to be faithful to a person or cause, to stick with whatever that commitment is, even when the going gets tough.

Our students are taught to have commitment toward their academic studies and goals; to be committed to the physical training and sports they have chosen to take part in; to be committed to improving their life skills by taking part fully in all aspects of the RLA program; and, ultimately, to be committed to reaching their true potential and living their best lives.

As well, I made a connection with the students by describing how commitment was actually loyalty and labour by standing up for something and putting actions toward it.

The Five Values of RLA

Loyalty, labour, courage, commitment and honour.

These are the five values of Robert Land Academy which we strive to instill in our students. For many of our students, and many adults as well, these words are understood as concepts or ideas but not in how they apply to everyday life.

To help our students understand these values, as well as the importance of having values, I have ben spending time each Tuesday morning talking to the cadets to help define these words, how they apply to life on campus as well as life after RLA, and how the cadets can live within these values.   

I started with why the Academy has five values and where those values came from.

Many military schools, which have existed much longer than RLA, have a declared value or values which support a lifestyle based in honour and integrity. And the military has a strong connection to honour and integrity as well. The Academy chooses to maintain this tradition of basing itself on having a strong and defined set of values.

The five values Robert Land Academy chooses to base itself on were created based on the belief that if students at RLA are to reach their potential there needs to be standards of behavior that they can strive towards both here at the Academy and in everyday life.

They were inspired by Robert Land, who the school is named for and who epitomized these five values in the work he did; and by the 1 Can-Para group, the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion which fought in WWII and whose members were instrumental as practical role models for the RLA program (Lt. Col. G.F. Eadie was the last unit commander of  the battalion and is who the Parade Square is named for).

The first of the values I discussed with the boys is loyalty, which is the quality of staying firm (not changing) in your friendship or support for someone or something.

It’s fairly easy to be loyal to a friend or to your school or workplace. At RLA loyalty is shown when cadets and staff follow the rules and expectations set out by the Academy and respect themselves and each other. At the Academy we also encourage the boys to support each other, rely upon each other and be loyal to each other.

It’s much harder, however, when your loyalties conflict and are pulled in opposing directions. I shared this example: if a student brings contraband to the school – does his friend stay loyal to the other student and not report the contraband or does he remain loyal to the Academy and report the violation of the rules to a staff member?

It’s a tough situation to face and a tough decision to make. I explained that the students can be loyal to both the school and their friend by understanding that by doing the right thing they are ultimately being loyal to both by helping the friend learn the importance of these values.

I also noted that we need to consider the long-term effects if we have to choose between loyalties. In this specific example, considering the Academy has the best interest of the student at heart, helping him to succeed now and throughout life while friendship, while important, is often fleeting and more focused on short-term pleasure than long-term gain.

Living by a set of values usually helps make these types of decisions clear, because you will make the choice that aligns with your own values no matter how difficult it may be to report your friend’s contraband.

Labour, as defined by the dictionary, has many definitions including childbirth or the working class movement, but for our students the simplest and most relevant definition is productive activity or work.

The key word here being productive.

As part of my talk on labour I pondered whether it is natural for humans to work, and of course the answer is yes. Throughout time, work – building shelter, hunting or collecting food - have all been forms of labour that have improved the individual lives of humans and progressed our overall existence.

At RLA labour helps our students reach their true potential. Work around the barracks and on campus can improve life skills, work in the classroom improves academics, and work in the physical program improves health and wellness.

Beyond RLA working hard at everything you do – academics, jobs, furthering your career, family relationships, etc. – is the labour required to build a successful and happy life.

I continue to talk to the boys about these values, and I’ll share these talks on the remaining values in future blogs.

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