Building the World
At Valley Forge Military Academy & College, students learn respect, fulfillment and all the tools they need to succeed in life
by Daniel Sean Kaye

Located on a sprawling campus in idyllic Wayne, Valley Forge Military Academy & College (VFMA&C) is rich with history and proud of the cutting-edge, individualistic and wide-ranging education it provides. Many great men and women have emerged from its hallowed halls to become leaders in politics, business, education and more. Its success rate is stunning, yet it continues to adapt to a rapidly changing and increasingly complicated world.

There are two distinct facets of VFMA&C: the academy, which is comprised of a middle school and a high school, and the college. While it’s unusual to have different levels of education on one campus, the model affords VFMA&C some “very special things,” according to Stacey R. Sauchuk, Ph.D., president of VFMA&C. “High school students in good standing can take college courses, the older cadets become mentors, and the younger students can look up to more senior cadets,” she says. “It also allows the faculty and staff to get to know the students very well, and vice versa.

“The real standout is studying next to someone from another country,” she continues. “It provides for a more educated leader—whether that’s in the world of business, law, medicine, banking, law enforcement, athletics, the military or education.”

“There’s a strong academic structure in place here,” adds Rich Casey, athletic director for VFMA&C. “This is not a military base, but we are military academically. We are structured for success. Kids are held accountable. They’re responsible for making sure their rooms are clean, and that they look presentable. The teachers are very involved and are taught to recognize early if there’s an issue. We have a strong educational support group to help the kids.”

Students have the opportunity to participate in a wide variety of activities, including athletics, debate clubs and honor societies, as well as dances and social functions, both formal and relaxed. Everything offered at VFMA&C is designed to “build the student’s world,” according to Sauchuk.

“They can be involved with student affairs, the rifle club, horsemanship, entertainment, belaying and rock climbing, paintball and physical training,” she says. “They build good habits: punctuality, politeness, discipline, self-confidence and focus—good practice for adulthood. The academy, which is a college preparatory program, offers honors programs and helps to improve scores to get into a [top-tier] college.”

Reasons for coming to the academy are as diverse as the student body. For some, it’s the academic rigor designed to help them improve their SAT scores or otherwise help them get into an Ivy League university. For others, it’s simply the socialization, structure and personal-development opportunities it provides.

“In the college, maybe they didn’t use their full potential in high school or they’re great athletes who want to get a solid, structured education,” says Casey. “Kids coming here could have a 4.0 or a 1.9 [GPA], but we provide fair opportunities for all.”

VFMA&C was established in 1928 by Lieutenant General Milton G. Baker. The school was modeled after a combination of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, the U.S. Naval Academy and Sandhurst Military Academy in England, according to Tom Goldblum, VFMA&C’s director of alumni relations.

“There is a special bond that is within all of us alumni after we have completed our plebe training at ‘The Forge,’” says Goldblum, a 1969 graduate of the academy who attended the college in 1970, majoring in business administration. “No matter what walk of life you are from, what country you hail from, your ethnicity, your gender, etc., it makes no difference because we have all passed through the same thing and we have excelled.”

Small class sizes and specialized instruction are only a part of the lifestyle for a Valley Forge cadet. Each cadet starts at the bottom of the chain of command and progresses up through the ranks by way of hard work and determination.

“[Students are] trained in teamwork and group dynamics, as well as being able to think and process information on our own, not only in a military sense but also in an everyday world sense,” Goldblum says. “During this process of working with them individually and as a team, we also learn how to lead and take charge of that team and of ourselves.”

As one of five two-year institutions in the United States that have an accredited Early Commissioning program, VFMA&C strives to provide the best military, academic and lifestyle experiences to its cadets. “All of us that have come through the main gates are prepared for life whether we become soldiers, sailors, business leaders, artists or chefs,” Goldblum says. “This superior educational advantage makes it easier for all of us graduates to assimilate into any area of life we choose.”

Jamieson Bilella, vice president of enrollment management and marketing at VFMA&C, can sum up the school’s most compelling trait in one simple word: opportunity.

“At the academy, kids are exposed to international and intercultural relationships,” he says. “They aren’t just hearing about people far away; they’re actually having interactions with them. This breeds an awareness and comfort level few kids get to experience. Our students are from 27 countries and 31 states. They could meet kids that could be from Center City Philadelphia through to a prince from the Middle East, and build a bond and friendship with them—enriching and rewarding them for the rest of their lives.”

The educational experience is equally enriching, with daily academic review sessions to help educators keep students on task. “This goes for character, responsibility, professionalism, accountability, respect and proper conduct, as well,” Bilella adds. “These values are imbued from an early age. [Students] are shown that hard work pays off. There’s reward in this.”

Some might have misconceptions about VFMA&C, stemming back to a time when the parents of current VFMA&C students were in school. Bilella wants to set the record straight: “This is not a reform school. We do not train kids for military service. This is not a place ‘where parents send bad kids.’ This is where kids are taught to hold themselves to a very high standard. Here, 95 percent of our academy students graduate and go to four-year colleges. Our high-achieving students are eligible to take college courses to get early college credits through the portability and transferability of a Valley Forge Military College transcript. Our staff includes Fulbright scholars, people who hold patents and highly successful people in their fields, and our smaller class sizes enable students to interact directly with these people.”

Sauchuk takes it a step further, adding, “What might surprise people is how much fun we have here. It’s not some miserable, hard environment. It is challenging but enjoyable and rewarding here. Our students do the things that their peers do and more. They do some really exceptional things and learn through achieving.”

Valley Forge Military Academy & College
1001 Eagle Road
Wayne, PA 19087

Photograph by Jody Robinson