“Public school students aren’t pushed to strive for physical fitness or excellence, but here at St. John’s, it’s a standard that we uphold. We make sure cadets are completing at least some form of fitness every single day.”Sgt. Maj. Tibodeau
The values, behaviors, and practices that children learn in their youth are those that often form the foundation of their beliefs as they move into adulthood. For this reason, one of the most vital lessons needed to shape successful futures is the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle, including a balanced diet, and regular physical activity. Unfortunately, despite all the known benefits of leading a healthy lifestyle, according to The Aspen Institute, in 2015 only about 27 percent of youth age 6 to 12, and 40 percent of youth age 13 to 17 were active to a healthy level and beyond. Also, according to the national State of Obesity survey, in 2016 31.2 percent of youth ages 10 to 17 were overweight or obese.
In the effort to help transform young men into modern day knights, and enable cadets to become the best possible versions of themselves intellectually, socially, emotionally, and physically, St. John’s Military School teaches the importance of healthy lifestyle habits. At the center of its instruction is an offering of healthy meals on campus and a requirement for regular physical activity. According to school leaders and cadets, the St. Johns’ approach to wellness is successful in encouraging positive choices and enabling additional opportunities for positive personal development.
Fueling Active Lifestyles with Healthy Diets
According to St. John’s President Col. William J. Clark, a healthy diet is key to a healthy lifestyle and overall wellness.
“Healthy eating habits promote proper physical development as well as increase one’s overall brain function,” said Clark.
St. John’s offers cadets healthy, balanced meals throughout the day, favorites of which include cheesy eggs on Saturday mornings, an extended salad bar, and roast beef.
For Cadet Capt. Elton Max Duncan, a senior at St. John’s, the school has taught him the importance of setting a dedicated time for well-balanced meals.
“Since I’ve been at St. John’s, I’ve learned to eat a lot fuller meals,” he said. “Before I came here, I didn’t always have the time for full meals.”
To ensure cadets are well-fueled throughout the day, the school offers access to a healthy snack during the third and seventh class periods. Healthy options include power bars, fresh fruits, and other snacks that aim to keep cadets feeling full, awake, able to focus on class and fueled for afternoon physical activities.
Linda Payne, the food service director at St. John’s, has been leading the school’s efforts to provide healthy meals for over 11 years. She continually works to tailor her menus to both help the cadets achieve optimal wellness, and suit their food preferences.
“I concentrate on building menus that offer healthy, holistic foods,” said Payne. “When preparing the menu each week, I aim to choose foods low in sugar and sodium, and maximize each meal to offer the highest nutritional value for active young men. I also try to avoid processed food products in favor of natural options.”
Cadet 2nd Lt. Connor Schieffer, a senior cadet at St. John’s and four-sport athlete, appreciates having access to healthy foods daily. He explains that since he’s been enrolled at the school the past two years, he’s enjoyed a healthier, more balanced diet compared to when he was in enrolled in his previous school. Also, the exposure to healthier choices while on campus impacts the decisions that he makes when not on campus.
“I eat healthier when I’m not here too,” said Schieffer. “I’m motivated to lead a long-lasting, healthy lifestyle.”
To further make each meal a comforting, enjoyable experience for the cadets living away from home, Payne encourages cadets to share their favorite family recipes that can serve as the foundation for healthy meals.
“I can adjust any meal to make it healthier without losing quality or flavor,” she said.
For Payne, the reward for a job well done is in watching the cadets each year develop into young men of character.
“The best part of my job is the daily interaction I have with the young men who grow into extraordinary adults. I value my job and know how lucky I am.”
Promoting Regular Physical Activity and Leadership Development
Not only does St. John’s emphasize healthy eating, but it also underscores regular physical activity as part of achieving optimal personal wellness. According to cadet Sgt. Maj. Dalton Thibodeau after arriving at St. John’s, cadets soon learn the vital role that physical activity must play in their daily lives.
“When cadets come here I don’t think they realize how important it is to participate in regular physical fitness,” said Thibodeau. “Here at St. John’s, fitness is relevant daily.”
St. John’s offers its cadets the ability to participate in a wide variety of sports activities all year long, including football, golf, cross country, soccer, tennis, wrestling, and basketball. Cadets may also choose to participate in the Meat Heads weightlifting club, a cadet-led activity.
According to Duncan, his participation in several of the school’s athletic teams has helped to reinforce the importance of daily physical activity.
“I’m on the varsity soccer and basketball teams, participate in the indoor soccer and hockey teams, and the Advanced Military Skills team,” said he explained. “Sports are a big part of life here, and as a result, I’ve been given a chance to stay more fit. I have the opportunity to work out every day here. Being active has become a daily habit.”
For Duncan, sports at St. John’s are about more than staying physically fit.
“Sports helps in developing teamwork. Win or lose, you get through it with your team.”
For Schieffer, his participation in varsity wrestling, football, running, and weightlifting is helping him to learn valuable skills about how to lead.
“Participating in the school’s athletics has taught me important leadership qualities and traits,” he said. “It’s taught me how to take a large group of others and command them and show them what to do and how to do it.”
According to Tibodeau, St. John’s cadets are afforded opportunities to achieve a level of physical fitness and endurance that students in the public school system don’t have.
“In public school, you don’t get the opportunities that you get here,” he explained. “Public school students aren’t pushed to strive for physical fitness or excellence, but here at St. John’s, it’s a standard that we uphold. We make sure cadets are completing at least some form of fitness every single day.”
Promoting Physical Achievements through JROTC
In addition to organized sports and daily physical training, all high school age cadets at St. John’s are required to participate in the school’s Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC). The JROTC program uses military training as a foundation to motivate cadets to be better citizens. To help underscore the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle, the program includes regular physical fitness testing to ensure cadets are meeting and exceeding guidelines established by recommended national standards. The testing encourages the cadets to aim to improve their fitness capabilities throughout the year and motivates healthy competition among the brotherhood to achieve the highest standards and earn top recognition.
According to Sgt. Maj. Tibodeau, the JROTC program offers a significant opportunity for cadets to develop essential leadership skills and personal accountability.
“In JROTC cadets learn important virtues, such as personal morals, selfless-service, honor, integrity, and other characteristics that help them proceed and succeed later in life,” he said. “It’s important that our cadets understand how applicable such characteristics are. In JROTC and our sports teams, you learn to both be a better team player and a better person.”