Military Academy updates courses

By Josette Keelor

WOODSTOCK — In a small room at Massanutten Military Academy in Woodstock, a woman wearing a lacy blue skirt and red lipstick has died. Beside her on the floor behind crime scene tape is a spilled glass of liquid, a phone off the hook and a substance that didn’t agree with her.

Now it’s the work of cadets in a biomedical science class to find out what happened. The class is part of the school’s first STEM program, offering more advanced classes in science, technology, engineering and math.

As Massanutten Military Academy works to redefine what military school means for a contemporary student body, STEM classes are one step along a path to global competitiveness. The program adds another element to its basic curriculum, said CSM Suzanne Rubenstein, admission and junior ROTC instructor.

“Now you’re talking engineering,” Rubenstein said. “You’re talking the next level to get them closer to the high school range, to the college range … to compete globally, not just in our area.”

“They’re already doing this in China and all those other places, but we’re not, so we just started doing it,” she said.

Through a partnership with Project Lead the Way, a nationally known organization founded by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, four of the school’s teachers have been trained to teach STEM classes. According to Rubenstein, every cadet is required to take a STEM class.

Other plans for the new school year include art teacher Dennis Wymer’s initiative to start an art honor society to give cadets an edge over other high school students applying to college admissions programs.

“You need straight As to do this kind of thing,” Rubenstein explained.

Returning to its roots after temporarily removing “military” from its name last fall, the school has planned to continue into the 2014-15 school year with interim Head of School School, David Skipper, whom Rubenstein said the board hopes will become permanent should he decide not to return to teaching.

Last year’s temporary name change lasted about six months after administrators noticed a legal loophole — the school had never officially changed its name from Massanutten Academy in the first place. They pursued the possibility of emphasizing its merits as a prep school, but then in May, said Rubenstein, the school “went right back to putting the military where it belongs.”

One of only 39 military schools left in the country, Massanutten is “not going anywhere,” she said, “and I think now more than ever … we’re going to keep this moving.”

“Despite our numbers being low, we’re going to do everything we can to bring them back up again,” she said.

The school year started on Aug. 27 with 110 cadets, up from last year’s 76, after seeing steady declines in enrollment through the previous three years. Four years ago when Rubenstein came to the school, enrollment was in the 130s. The following year, she said, it was in the 80s.

The school can house 200, she said, and “Now we’re already starting higher than we were.”

To keep cadets coming, she said the school now offers families more. The $29,000 tuition and $2,300 uniform fee now include almost everything else a cadet could need during a school year at Massanutten. Everything from sheets, blankets and towels to sneakers, book bags and toiletries are included in the price.

“We actually give them a rag to polish their shoes with,” Rubenstein said. Though, she added, cadets might have to foot the bill for shoe polish.

The private school opened in 1899 and became a military school in 1917, but Rubenstein said it’s the passion of the administration that will keep it marching through the 21st century.

Students come to military school for two main reasons, she said — they want the structure and discipline, or their parents want it for them. Often it’s a mixture of both, but military school isn’t what it used to be.

“The need is still there, despite what people think, ’cause we’re not here to create soldiers anymore. That was so 50 years ago,” Rubenstein said. “… We’re teaching kids to be good citizens, which just isn’t happening anymore.”

“We got to keep the image of the military school ‘up here,’ not ‘I’ve got every thug from D.C. hanging out here.’ It’s not like that anymore. That’s not how it works. … It’s taking kids that need the structure and turning them into better citizens so they can do it themselves.”

Contact Massanutten Military Academy at 540-459-2167 or at http://www.militaryschool.com.

Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com>