“I have already been admitted to Kansas University. I’m going to major in finance and minor in economics.”Cadet Erik Cabildo Arias
St. John’s Military School believes that every one of its cadets deserves personal attention, the refinement and support of individual education pathways, and the level of support that only a brotherhood can provide. The military school’s commitment to such individualized attention has enabled its cadets to overcome previous academic challenges and pursue personal, educational, and career goals many never previously believed possible. To further its cadets’ abilities to achieve their highest aspirations, the leadership at St. John’s has formed new partnerships with local area colleges and universities to allow cadets to earn college-level course credit—all before they even graduate from St. John’s. Not only are the offerings helping cadets advance their college degrees, but they are also helping them build the confidence they need to realize their potential for achievement.
A Variety of College Coursework Programs and Partnerships
Cadets at St. John’s are afforded a variety of opportunities to take concurrent college coursework, depending on their interests, schedules, and career goals. College courses offered at St. John’s include the availability of online courses that are supported by St. John’s coordinator of online courses, Mary Cerny and a college-level calculus class taught on the St. John’s campus by Professor James Knapp of Salina Area Technical College. Cadets may also elect to take college courses off campus at nearby colleges and universities such as the Kansas State Polytechnic Campus, Kansas Wesleyan University, and Salina Area Technical College.
According to Ginger Wooten, St. John’s Military School Academic Dean, the decision to pursue so many and such varied concurrent college coursework partnerships stems from the school’s commitment to focusing on the individual needs of each student.
“Our cadets have a wide variety of interests and partnering with area colleges allows us to assist them in pursuing opportunities to explore those interests,” said Wooten. “It would be difficult to achieve this level of personalized attention if we were a larger school, but thanks to our size and our wonderful community partners who are as committed to our students as we are, we can offer these tailored academic opportunities.”
Not only do students who enroll in college-level courses benefit from the ability to get an early start on obtaining college credit, but they are also able to save significantly on the cost associated with each class. Cadets taking concurrent college courses through Kansas Wesleyan University, Salina Area Technical College, and Kansas State Polytechnic pay a pre-freshman rate, which is significantly less than what they would pay if enrolled full-time.
The Benefits of Off-Campus College Coursework
This year, St. John’s has made a concerted effort to enable more of its cadets to take concurrent college courses off campus.
“We have found that the college experience is more impactful if our students can take courses on the college campus,” said Wooten. “So we have committed as a school to get the cadets to campus without disrupting their high school class and activity schedule.”
To meet the transportation needs of the cadets, the faculty and staff at St. John’s are doing what they do best—supporting the cadets on an individual level. Faculty and staff have volunteered to drive the cadets to and from the area college campuses to attend classes or seek assistance from professors during office hours.
Cadet David Gross, a senior from Hays, Kansas in his fourth year at St. John’s, is one student benefitting from the off-campus experience. He is transported every weekday morning to Salina Area Technical College where he is participating in the school’s construction technology program. Part of the course’s practical application has David on a team that is working to build a house from the ground up.
“People have always told me I’m good with my hands, and so when I found out about the program at Salina Tech, I wanted to try it. Now I really enjoy it,” he said.
Gross has appreciated the support he has received from St. John’s faculty and staff.
“Faculty from St. John’s drive me to my classes, they give me time to do my college course homework, and I know I can go to any of the math teachers if I need help. Before I came to St. John’s I was in a small school where I was getting Ds and Fs. The teachers at St. John’s have been more focused on me than the teachers at my previous school. They have helped me out a lot, and now I get straight As.”
Gross modestly adds that he has the highest GPA among the corps of cadets. After he graduates, he hopes to get a job in the construction industry and plans to pursue an associate’s degree, an achievement he had not thought about before enrolling in St. John’s.
Online Learning Opportunities
The St. John’s cadets who are taking online courses are thriving in the digital classroom environment. Some cadets participate in coursework in real time through a digital interface, while others watch recordings of class sessions on their own time. All cadets who participate in online courses have the support and guidance of Coordinator of Online Courses Mary Cerny to ensure they are managing their time, seeking out help when needed and completing their coursework.“Ms. Cerny can do it all,” said Wooten. “She is tenacious and resourceful and will stop at nothing to make sure our students are successful. Without her, our online college course program would not be as successful as it is today.”
More than helping the cadets with their coursework, Cerny is teaching them how to be successful, independent learners. She helps them set deadlines and work toward accomplishing long-term projects.
“I can’t tutor every subject, but I can facilitate helping the students to get time with their professors,” said Cerny. “I can teach them study skills, and how to understand a syllabus, and how to schedule office hours with a professor, and how to advocate for themselves so that when they enroll in college full-time, they will have the skills they need to be successful.”
Cerny was influential in encouraging Erik Cabildo Arias, a senior and international student from Puebla, Mexico, to enroll in college coursework while at St. John’s. Today he is enrolled in Personal Finance and Foundations of Graphic Application at Kansas Wesleyan University. Cabildo travels to the college’s campus three days a week for his coursework. He is supported by many of the faculty and staff at St. John’s to succeed in his college coursework.
“If I have trouble with my personal finance coursework I can go to my math teacher and ask for help,” said Cabildo. “If I have a problem with my schedule, I can go to Ms. Wooten or Ms. Cerny, and I get a ride to my classes from Major Stelljes.”
Cabildo, who came to the United States and enrolled in St. John’s primarily to learn English and prepare to earn a college degree, is on pace to obtain a master’s degree in only four years.
“I have already been admitted to Kansas University,” he said. “I’m going to major in finance and minor in economics.”
Gaining Confidence Through College Experiences
For Cerny, one of the most impactful aspects of St. John’s concurrent college coursework opportunities is seeing how the cadets start gaining confidence in their academic abilities as they achieve success with their college classes.
“I have been so impressed by the way that our students are embracing their college courses, and how they are growing academically and personally from their experiences,” said Cerny. “These cadets start to realize that they are smarter than they thought, and they start to take more interest and ownership in their grades and study habits. Many have already expressed that they want to continue taking more college-level courses. They start to feed on the excitement of challenging themselves and earning success. It’s important for everyone to have an avenue that opens up challenges.”
For cadet Philip Tabor, a junior from Colorado Springs, Colorado, it is precisely that desire to be challenged that is fueling his success. Taber has enrolled in Microeconomics on the Kansas State Polytechnic Campus.
“I wanted a challenge,” said Tabor, when asked why he chose to pursue concurrent college coursework in his junior year. As a young man who describes himself as doing poorly academically before enrolling in St. John’s, he is now flourishing.
“I keep a 95 average now,” said Tabor.
After he graduates, Tabor intends to pursue mechanical engineering at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colorado.
Bringing the College Experience to the St. John’s Campus
To accommodate the number of cadets wanting to pursue college-level calculus, St. John’s made arrangements for Professor James Knapp from Salina Area Technical College to teach Calculus I, a Kansas system-wide transfer course right on the St. John’s campus.
“Mr. Knapp has been a wonderful addition to our faculty,” said Wooten. “He came on campus and understood exactly what our cadets needed from day one. We are fortunate that we have been able to bring him to our campus to teach our students.”
Knapp has been impressed by the level of maturity and commitment he has seen from the St. John’s cadets he has taught this year.
“Their drive to learn and their maturity is better than the average college freshman,” said Knapp, adding that Salina Area Technical College’s partnership with St. John’s is an important part of the school’s commitment to the students in the Salina community.
“Salina Area Technical College is committed to expanding to serve the academic needs of the community. It aims to serve as the premier concurrent college partner in the area, and its relationship with St. John’s is an important part of that commitment.”
A School-Wide Commitment to Individual Success
Cerny credits the dedication of the St. John’s faculty and staff for enabling the success of the school’s concurrent college coursework program.
“We wouldn’t be able to do this without Ginger Wooten. She is so willing to adapt and find opportunities. Our teachers and staff have been so committed to the success of our cadets too. Many have volunteered to spend their planning time picking up and dropping students off on campus. Even our lunch staff have made accommodations. We have a student who is able to pick up a lunch made especially for him early every day so he can take it off campus with him when he leaves for his college classes,” she explained. “Everyone who has helped support the program has helped the cadets to succeed.”
Cerny has made the same, individual commitment to her students that all of St. John’s has made, and is working hard to ensure that every cadet feels supported and capable of achieving his goals.
“I had one student in particular who was so nervous about a test that he didn’t perform as well as he could have,” she said. “We worked through his challenges together, and on the next test when he did well, he was so excited. He told me he had wanted to quit, and I told him, ‘I won’t let you!’”
Preparing the Young Men of Today to be the Leaders of Tomorrow
Since St. John’s current college-level course offerings have been so successful, Wooten plans to continue to expand the school’s partnerships with all three area colleges and work to develop even more program opportunities for cadets in the future.
“We will continue to look at the individual needs of our students as they come in and assess what they need, and then work to identify partnerships with our area colleges to help them achieve those goals.”
When asked what advice he would give to an underclassman considering college coursework opportunities, Taber said, “Do it. The courses are more challenging, it gets you more involved in your academics, and it can boost your GPA.”
According to Wooten, even aside from the academic and financial benefits, the program does much to prepare the cadets personally for the challenges they will face when they walk out of St. John’s doors.
“Our cadets who begin college coursework early have a better understanding of what it takes to be successful in college,” said Wooten. “It’s difficult to teach some of the life skills needed for college success while a young man is still in high school. These experiences are helping them understand what it takes to be successful at the college level. Plus, it allows them to connect to other students and professionals educationally and socially. Overall, I think these opportunities have prompted a lot of our students to be even more focused academically than they were previously. I am so proud of the seriousness with which they are taking their classes. My hope for our cadets is that they utilize what they are learning to help them be successful for the rest of their lives.”
Cerny has similar hopes for her students.
“I want them all to be productive citizens, no matter the path they take—whether it’s a four-year college degree or a two-year technical degree. I want them all to be lifelong learners and productive members of our society so they can go out there and make a difference in the world.”