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How parents can best support their students at Culver Academies

Tom Coyne

Jan. 18, 2023

Culver Academies is a boarding school designed to be a high-challenge environment, so parents should be prepared for the inevitable phone call from their child that they are facing challenges at school.

Programs at Culver Academies are intended to push students to the edge of discomfort because that is where optimal growth and development occurs. Instead of trying to solve the challenge their child is facing, parents should encourage their children to advocate for themselves to work to find solutions.

“Students need to learn to be independent, so parents should be nudging them to solve their problems themselves,” said Col. Michael Squires, Culver’s commandant of cadets.

Culver also provides a support structure for students to help them find solutions to the challenges they face. The hub of that support system is the counselors in dorms and barracks.

“The counselors are there to help students navigate through all the resources available at Culver and help them determine the appropriate next steps to take,” said Anne Kelley ’94, assistant dean of girls.

Squires and Kelley both recommend that parents encourage their children to try to solve their problems on their own. If that doesn’t work, the students should turn to their counselors, who have expertise in the best ways to find solutions.

An example of the support available to Culver students is the Academic Peer Coaching Program, where students meet one-on-one with another Culver student to receive individualized academic help. But the help they receive isn’t tutoring in a specific subject. The coaches teach their fellow students study strategies and help point them in the right direction.


Peer coach China Whitehead '26 works with Sami Kettanah '26 on study strategies as part of the Academic Peer Coaching Program.


“That can mean everything from helping students know where to go for help when they're struggling and help students know where to ask questions,” said Lizziey Sherk, Culver’s director of learning resources.

Among the other resources available for students are The Writing Center, the Math Help Center, and the Science Help Center, and Homework Café, a supervised closed quarters (a time in the evening when students are required to be in their rooms or the library to study) that reinforces study skills.

There also are resources available for students struggling with mental health issues. A student or a parent can request an appointment for a student with a member of the Emotional Support Services team. An appointment will be scheduled within 24 hours and a student will meet with a counselor within seven school days. But a student needing urgent care can walk to the clinic at any time and talk to an Emotional Support Services counselor.

Among the most frequent problems students face is the feeling they don’t have enough time to do their work. Disputes among roommates are another common problem.

Kelley and Squires both say parents who are concerned their children won’t seek help from their dorm or barracks counselors can email the counselors to let them know they should be expecting to hear from their children about whatever concern they have. They can ask the counselor if they don’t hear from their child, please reach out to the student. That puts the problem on the counselor’s radar without putting the parent directly into problem-solving mode.

“We want to establish a strong connection between the counselors and the students, and the parents as well,” Kelley said.

Parents also can let counselors know about some personal challenges a student might be going through, such as troubles at home or health problems involving a loved one.

While it sometimes can be challenging to get information from teenagers, Squires recommends parents keep up-to-date on things happening at Culver by reading the Academy Road Newsletter and the Culver Cannon so they can ask their children about events happening around campus.

“Did you go to this event? How was Vespers? How was this guest speaker,” Squires said. “Ask questions that they’re going to have to give more than a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer to because you are engaging them in conversation about what’s going on in their lives.”

Kelley recommends that if a parent hears something from their child that doesn’t sound right, check with the student’s counselor to verify.

“With a student-run leadership system, there are also times where the plan that is put together gets misinterpreted by the student leaders, and what they're doing isn’t what was intended,” Kelley said. “We want to be able to make corrections. So it's very helpful for parents to share what they’re hearing from students so that we can either make an adjustment or help students understand what was meant.” 

Parents also can be supportive by letting students know it’s OK to struggle at times.

“It’s our instinct to help children feel better and to help them not to struggle. But if we can get students comfortable struggling to a reasonable extent, there's so much learning through that struggle,” Kelley said. “It’s difficult to watch from the sidelines. But we can acknowledge it and validate it, and support them through it and let them know that it’s normal to struggle with things. For a lot of kids, that's why they came to Culver. They want to be challenged and they weren't getting it in their schools in their hometowns. So when they’re in the middle of it, parents should encourage them.”


Resident Director Gretchen Sweetland speaks to a cadet in South Barrack. Culver Military Academy added resident directors this school year to give cadets another adult to turn to for guidance, support and instruction and to create a positive command climate in the barracks.

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