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Posted September 13, 2012 | comments Leave a comment

Falcon Foundation scholars welcomed

R-MA students prepare for Air Force Academy

By Kim Walter -- kwalter@nvdaily.com

In spring 2011, Randolph-Macon Academy was notified that it had been added to the short list of Falcon Foundation Prep Schools. This school year, the first two Falcon Foundation Scholars arrived and began their work toward acceptance into the U.S. Air Force Academy.

Retired Air Force officers started the Falcon Foundation in 1958 as a way to provide young people seeking admission into the Air Force Academy with scholarship funds to attend a prep school for one year and pursue an Air Force career.

Scholarships are offered to 100 or fewer high school graduates a year who have been rejected by the Academy, but show promise and motivation to succeed.

Only eight institutions across the country, including R-MA, are Falcon Foundation schools, and when students are offered the scholarship they also have a choice of where to go.

Virginian Carissa Voccaro, 18, and Colorado resident George Bealls, 18, received notification shortly before graduating high school that they were selected for the program.

"I applied to the Air Force and, obviously, I didn't get in," Bealls said. "But I got the scholarship offer looked into and I said, 'This is it.'"

Voccaro had plans to attend James Madison University through an ROTC scholarship this fall, but when she got the call about the Falcon Foundation program, she realized that it was a "better decision" for her future.

"I want to fly," she said, smiling. "I went to the Air Force summer seminar and I just fell in love with it. I knew it was what I had to do."

The students admitted that in their last semester of public high school, they had a case of 'senioritis.'

"I'm so glad to have this second chance," Bealls said. "I might not be going to the Air Force right away, but at least I'm going."

Last year, 98 percent of Falcon Foundation Scholars were accepted in to the Air Force Academy, so the students have an exceptional chance of getting the same result. The Class of 2016 was the smallest class ever accepted by the Air Force, and with the help of the Falcon Foundation program and the intense focus on Air Force acceptance and flight school, both students feel R-MA was the perfect choice.

Gen. Henry Hobgood, R-MA's President, visited the Air Force academy last year to learn what Falcon Foundation Scholars needed from the program.

"We had to do some things internally with curriculum and our program, but now that we have these students, we're not only ready, we're more than ready," he said. Hobgood has worked for the past 10 years to add R-MA to the list of Falcon Foundation schools.

"These students will focus on English, writing, chemistry, mathematics, SAT and ACT preparation, as well as physical fitness ... it's a very demanding program," he said. "The flying part is more the icing on the cake."

Bealls and Vaccaro have the same academic schedule, and said they're happy with their teachers and newly found determination. Bealls noted that many freshman students in the Air Force Academy struggle with the basics, so it was helpful to know that by the end of this school year, he would be prepared.

"Coming here definitely made me focus," said Vaccaro, whose father is in the military. She said her family was quick to support her decision to pursue an Air Force career.

"I want to serve my country," she said. "You can't really explain it, it's just something in you. The desire to serve really motivates you."

Bealls' family wasn't as on board with his decision until recently.

"Even though they didn't have that drive, being around me, knowing that this is what I really want to do, has made it a lot easier for them to understand," he said.

Hobgood, who is affiliated with the Air Force, is excited to have the students not only because it reflects greatly on the school's ability to produce "superior commissioned officers," but also because of the students' drive.

"It is very rare for kids their age to make a lifetime commitment to serve their nation," he said. "To have them here, in Front Royal, Va. at R-MA is very special."

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