Riverside Military Academy is not what some people think it is.
“There’s a misperception that we’re some kind of reform school,” President William J. Gallagher, a retired U.S. Army colonel, said. “That is not us at all. We are a college prep boarding school that brings out the best in young men. We are not a feeder program to the U.S. military.”
Bringing out the best in young men is evident in an all-time high enrollment of about 550 students at the all-boys school, with 120 graduating last May.
“What hasn’t changed is our mission to launch graduates into the college of their choice,” Gallagher said.
Of those graduates, 96 percent enrolled in the college of their choice, with some attending service institutions like the Naval Academy, and a few directly joining the ranks of the military.
Gallagher said these graduates collectively amassed $6.7 million in merit-based scholarship money.
But some things are changing at Riverside.
Gallagher said the school is focusing more instructional attention on science, technology, engineering and math education, which includes the introduction this year of a robotics program thanks to a grant from NASA.
Riverside is also now piloting a new academic course that Gallagher hopes will one day be required to graduate.
It’s about giving real-world experience to young men by teaching them, for instance, how to grill a steak; how to escort a lady; how to change the oil and a tire on a car; how to read an apartment lease; and the difference between debit and credit cards.
“What we envisioned was … what skills does (a young man) need to survive and do well,” Gallagher said. “So we created a course for that.”
Riverside has had significant success in athletics, too, over the past year.
For example, the junior ROTC group won a fourth straight state championship in a grueling obstacle-course style competition.
“It’s extremely physically demanding,” Gallagher said.
The JROTC champs also serve as a kind of microcosm of the core values Riverside works to instill in its students.
“It’s very much focused on teamwork,” Gallagher said. “The kids feel a part of something bigger than themselves. It takes everybody to that next level.”
In the coming year, Gallagher said he hopes to expand the renowned public speakers’ program Riverside already has established, which brings the likes of Holocaust survivors and famous sports coaches to campus to speak to and inspire students.
The school also plans to launch a multi-million-dollar capital fundraising campaign to address scholarship needs and improvements to facilities, such as upgrades to the football stadium and a dedicated wrestling gym.
And while the school is close to its enrollment capacity, Gallagher said he would like to add more international students.
Riverside currently has students from 27 different countries and 30 U.S. states.
“We have a very diverse school,” Gallagher said.