Parents of Hargrave Military Academy graduates recently explained the reasons why they opted to send their children to the highly structured Virginia private school for boys, and it centers on one word: character.
David Renaker, whose son Corey Renaker graduated from Hargrave in 2016, told WRAL the discipline at the military academy helped to limit distractions from social media, video games and other time wasters to help his son focus on what’s most important.
“The changes that have been made in Corey are dramatic. He’s a different person. He’s respectful, prompt, cares about what’s going on, and cares about his future,” David Renaker said. “I can’t say those were character traits he had before going to Hargrave. Hargrave made a tremendous difference in his life and ours.”
The single-sex, academically rigorous environment focuses a lot on students’ post-graduation success, both by forming character strengths to help them persevere and offering more challenging courses than traditional high schools, parents said.
Researchers at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture contrast the prevalent views of school culture: “There is a skeptical view that suggests that tight social networks of oversight provide an ongoing surveillence over young people, giving them little room to experiment or make mistakes. The more positive construction would be that a close community provides a watchful and loving attentiveness that allows the young person to thrive.” The social ecology of a school is determinative in character formation.
“Because of Hargrave, his GPA has risen, he got a full four-year scholarship to Alabama, plus an engineering scholarship on top of that,” said Calyx Harris, whose son Hayden Bressoud graduated from Hargrave in 2017. “He found fraternity and camaraderie here at Hargrave; it’s just been a fantastic experience.”
Like many private schools, Hargrave expects students to adhere to strict schedules and rules of decorum, and stresses self-discipline. Parents and students said the structure, along with school uniforms, expected code of conduct, and other rules contribute to a sense of safety and order that’s often absent from public schools.
Shaq Lawson, a 2012 Hargrave grad who was drafted to the NFL in 2016, told WRAL he credits his success in large part to the military-style regimen.
“I believe God put me on the right path to be successful. If I hadn’t gone to Hargrave, I’d have had a much harder time adjusting to life at Clemson in my freshman year,” he said. “Going to Hargrave changed the way I carry myself. It made me more accountable, more responsible, more of a man.”
Teachers and principals working to strengthen moral and citizenship formation in their students can find information and strategies at the UK's The Jubilee Centre.