His mother, Susan Gilbert, whose family has a construction business in Summerlin, described her son as determined, kind and someone who sets high goals for himself. He previously attended Merryhill School. She stressed that her son was not disruptive or in any type of trouble but said some youngsters thrive with more direction.
“Knowing how crowded the schools were here, we thought he’d do well in a stable environment,” she said in reference to St. John’s. “One with a lot of structure.”
Her sister-in-law, Jan Lundstrom, told her about St. John’s, so she checked it out. Gilbert said she found it beautiful and liked that there were only seven to 10 students per classroom. “And everything was structured from the time they woke up until they went to sleep at night,” she said. She signed Justin up, and he began attending in the sixth grade. “He adjusted to it early. There was no homesickness,” she said. Her son remembers it a little differently.
“At 10, I didn’t know much. I was scared at first. It was hard being away from home,” he said. “Those first six weeks, you wouldn’t have any contact with family. You could only write letters.” But he made friends, he said, and began finding his way. He learned how the military school rewarded students with rankings.
He said he didn’t expect to get a high ranking at St. John’s for his first three years, but in eighth grade, he went into the high school company and “got more mature.” He learned to do what needed to be done instead of questioning things.
School president Andy England recalled watching him grow from a sixth-grader to a senior, becoming a member of the high school football team and the precision rifle team for six years. He had nothing but praise for him.
“He takes care of his academics quite well, he’s very well regarded by his peers, he’s an athlete and very well-rounded cadet,” England said. “He has the highest potential to fulfill the duties of the position than anybody in the corps. He’s certainly built a heck of a high school resume.”
Justin plans to attend UNLV and earn a master’s degree in hotel management.
There’s another boy at St. John’s from the Summerlin area. Barbara and Gary Forbes’ son, Jackson, also attends the school. He is 13 and will be going into eighth grade this year.
Jackson has earned the Blue Beret designation three times, achieved the highest grade point average in the middle school last year and has moved up in rank to Sergeant, rare for a seventh-grader, school officials said. He will be an eighth-grader this fall.
“Jackson’s a wonderful student. He took to the school like a duck to water,” said England.
The school has 130 students in grades 6 through 12. Ninety percent of graduates go on to pursue college in any given year, the school said. St. John’s enjoys a long history that dates to 1887, but only a small percentage go on to have a military career.
“He’d like to be battalion commander when he graduates,” Jackson’s mother said. “It’s the top rank at the school. … Your rank is important. If you get into any type of trouble, you can get sent back to private, and no one wants to do that.”