Sitting in their home in Fayetteville, Arkansas on break for the holidays, Dave and Alice Dawson have many reasons to be thankful. Their son, Max, is home for the holiday from St. John’s Military School where they enrolled him almost a year ago. Not only has Max excelled academically, socially, and athletically since he entered St. John’s, he is developing the types of leadership skills, maturity, and worldly awareness they hoped for when they decided to transfer him from his large public secondary school in Arkansas to the Salina-based all-boys military school.
“Max is our only child,” said Dave. “He’s a great kid with a big heart. He does the right thing. We sent him to St. John’s because he was at a large public high school in Fayetteville, Arkansas with 2,600 students. He was flying under the radar there—not receiving enough individualized attention. He was earning good grades, but he wasn’t engaged in the full academic experience. Alice and I felt he would benefit from a structured environment with smaller class sizes.”
Today, when Dave and Alice look back on their decision to transfer Max to St. John’s, they know with certainty that it was the best decision they could have made for their only child.
“We sent Max to St. John’s as a great kid, but he’s already made so much progress,” said Dave. “He’s more independent, and he’s taking ownership of his success. He is engaged in that process now.”
Moving Toward Greater Opportunity
Just like so many St. John’s parents, Dave and Alice Dawson believed that Max was not meeting his full potential in a large school system.
“We live in a place where we have good public schools that serve most of the population here well,” said Dave.
Alice adds, “Max needed individualized attention and motivation from his instructors, and it just wasn’t happening in his public school. He needed a change in culture.”
“It would have been easy to keep Max in public school and hope it worked out,” said Dave, “But we worried he would graduate as the same person he was when he entered. We didn’t want that. We wanted Max to be more accountable, to feel a sense of brotherhood, and we wanted to push him to reach his full potential—not just fly under the radar.”
During the Christmas holiday in 2017, Dave and Alice told Max that they would be enrolling him at St. John’s to continue the second semester of his tenth-grade year.
Starting Over and Achieving
For both Max and his parents, the most challenging part of the transition to St. John’s, was the separation from one another.
“When I first got here, I missed my family and friends,” said Max. “You have to start all over and make new friends when you go to a new school.”
For Dave and Alice, the absence of Max in their home was agonizing and emotional.
“As our only child Max brought a lot of energy to our home,” said Dave. “It was difficult to think about what we’d miss with him going away to school, things like prom, his birthday, even the first time he shaved. It was difficult trusting our only child to school leaders six hours away. You feel a sense of guilt, and it takes time to find your new ‘normal.’ We are very intentional parents, and we like to create intentional experiences for Max. We were very involved before he left, and we are still involved. Parenting does not stop just because your child is out of your home. It’s just long-distance parenting.”
Despite the painful separation, it didn’t take long for Max to start realizing the benefits of the St. John’s philosophy as Dave and Alice hoped he would.
“My old high school was too big for me,” said Max. “There were 30 or more kids in each of my classes. The St. John’s teachers get to know us on a personal level and are more engaged than my public school teachers were. They help us in study hall and before and after school too.”
After only a year of enrollment, Max has found pride in his academic performance.
“Max is a very conscientious student who works hard in class every day,” said Ms. Pam Kraus, Chemistry and Integrated Science Teacher. “Even when concepts don’t come easy to him, he is willing to put in the effort to understand them. He always has a good attitude and is a positive influence in class.”
“I made decent grades at my old school, and I was a good student,” said Max, “But I didn’t take school that seriously. I take it a lot more seriously now. I’m striving for greatness and setting goals, and I’m thinking about my future and going to college.”
Not only is Max excelling thanks to the school’s leadership and its attentive faculty, but the only child has also excelled thanks to his fellow cadets.
“The best part of St. John’s is the brotherhood created with the kids there and how well you get to know them. They really feel like brothers.”
Thanks to the small class sizes and more personalized student philosophy, Max has also found his place in a wide variety of athletic and extracurricular organizations—opportunities that Dave and Alice believe wouldn’t have been available to him had he remained in his large public school in Arkansas.
“I played basketball and lettered in baseball last spring,” said Max. “I’m the vice president of the chapel counsel and have done lots of community service; and I am a Drill Instructor, leading New Boys. I’m gaining confidence at St. John’s.”
Feeling Thankful for a Future of Opportunities
Dave and Alice are proud of the maturity and self-awareness they have seen develop in their son during his time at St. John’s.
“We went to see Max after his first six weeks at St. John’s once he had completed New Boy Training,” said Alice. “You could see a sense of pride in him. He had pride in his academics and pride in the things he’d accomplished independently. He had been spending time with cadets from around the country and the world, and he seemed to understand that the world is bigger than just Northwest Arkansas.”
While Dave and Alice continue to miss Max every day he is away from home, they are optimistic about Max’s future.
“We want Max to be a kind, caring, and productive member of society who is happy, acts with integrity and leads by example,” said Dave.
Alice adds, “For us as a family; we try to lead a faith-based life. We want Max to do what is right and to be resilient when things don’t go as planned.”
“If Max wants to go to college, we want him to do that and do it well,” said Alice. “Our concern is who Max is as a person, not just what he’s going to do as a career. And his story at St. John’s isn’t finished. It’s still being written. We look forward to that outcome.”