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MMA partners with Heroic Imagination Project

By Kim Walter

Massanutten Military Academy is partnering with the Heroic Imagination Project to become the first boarding school in the world to embrace the program's curriculum and incorporate it into campus culture.

The Heroic Imagination Project -- a nonprofit organization based in San Francisco -- teaches people how to take effective action in challenging situations. It was developed by Dr. Philip Zimbardo, a professor at Stanford University.

The academy has been working for some time with the project's education team to develop a truly unique program based around HIP's core principals and MMA's structure.

The project states: "It is our goal to widen each student's range of adaptive responses to any social situation, decrease the chance that they will be persuaded to act against their better judgment, and increase the likelihood that they will take responsibility in an unclear situation and help others in need."

According to the academy's administration, the ideology partners perfectly with its stated mission and historic military traditions.

Merlin Henkel, head of school, said that just being affiliated with a project based out of Stanford University, and lending data and research to that project, is "incredible."

"In looking at the work that has been done so far, this is an unbelievably dynamic curriculum that results in change for anyone who gets involved," he said. "Now, we've been a military school for close to 100 years, and we're very committed to that military structure and its offerings. But we always have to be willing to adapt and move to the future."

Sarajane Trier, director of admissions and marketing, said the curriculum is made up of several lessons, which are 20 percent traditional and 80 percent hands on. The lessons include sections on anti-bullying, social responsibility, negative peer pressure and social media ethics.

While part of the curriculum will educate cadets on how to respectfully challenge someone who is "not behaving as they should," and how they can be aware of group dynamics, there is one piece that Trier believes stands out.

"It's one thing for students to know what to do in those types of challenging situations, but this program's end goal is get them to actually act on it," she said. "That is what makes the heroic aspect come to light."

Trier said that representatives from HIP have visited the campus, and felt the current cadet ranking and leadership structure will work well with the curriculum.

However, the curriculum and core values aren't just things that military students can value. Trier said these life lessons would carry beyond school and into any organized structure.

Ron Bowen, director of advancement, said the project does lend itself to a boarding school atmosphere.

"Of course we have an academic responsibility ... we are a school. But we also have a social responsibility to teach behavior, how to interact and how to address situations," he said. "In that way, this curriculum is an enhancement of what we already do. This will extend beyond the physical campus and into students' personal lives, homes lives ... hopefully every situation they encounter."

In July, faculty and staff will go through training in order to implement the curriculum at the start of the 2013-2014 school year. The training will allow staff to see an entire lesson taught, after which they can offer input on how the curriculum should be tweaked for the cadets.

Trier said there are some unintended benefits for cadets. Because the curriculum is part of a "living project," students can list that they contributed to the research on college applications.

The curriculum is being worked into psychology courses throughout the country. Trier said HIP hopes to eventually see all education and psychology students leave college with the ability to implement the information into any and all environments they enter.

"Our cadets will leave high school with tangible, hands-on experience," she said.

Eventually, though, Trier and other administrators plan to share what they've learned through the project with the community.

"Research shows that living in a positive environment enhances both academic and social abilities," she said. "We want to share what we know, and turn this into a viral improvement of the world."

For more information on the Heroic Imagination Project, go to www.heroicimagination.org.

Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or kwalter@nvdaily.com

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