Ben Brewer, a senior at Riverside Military Academy, learned what it means to be a caretaker when his father was stricken with cancer.
Brewer spent last summer between school and home, helping his father, Hugh, while giving his mother some much-needed time off from caregiving duties.
His father died over the summer last year, but Brewer said he was glad to return to school.
"I live here, so all my friends are here. Some of my teachers live here. There are the (tactical) officers," he said. "All my support system is really all right here."
This week, Brewer began his senior year at Riverside, and has done well enough to impress school administrators, including the commandant of cadets, Lt. Col. Kevin Jarrard.
"He is a tough young man with a bright future," Jarrard said.
Brewer, who lives in Cumming, said he’s happy his school is so close to his hometown. This was especially true when his father was sick. Brewer went home every weekend to take care of his dad, and often stayed longer so his mom wouldn’t be carrying all that responsibility alone.
At the height of his illness, Brewer’s father had to be rushed to the hospital once a week when the equipment that kept his kidneys functioning became unattached.
"Last summer, we went from him being able to walk around all the time, to him only being able to walk with a cane," Brewer said.
Eventually, his father became confined to his chair.
"I was home most of the time because I couldn’t be very far away in case he needed something, food or company," Brewer said.
Still, Brewer managed to complete a session of summer school and stay caught up on his schoolwork.
He said he chose to go to Riverside because of his interest in the military, and started school there in the middle of the 10th grade. The school provides structure, he said, with cadets having all of their time accounted for, from the moment they wake up until late in the evening.
The typical day for a Riverside student, Brewer said, begins at 6:15 or 6:30 a.m., with cadets cleaning the bathrooms and tidying their rooms to military standards as soon as they’re dressed.
Once chores are done, the cadets march and pass in review, then break for breakfast before beginning a school day that lasts from 8:05 a.m. until 3:30 or 4 p.m.
After class, they participate in sports or other outdoor activities, then pass in review again before dinner. After dinner, they have study hours in which they must keep their doors open and do homework.
Brewer said the academics at the school are difficult, but there is a lot of support.
"The teachers gave you so much attention, it just shocked me (at first)," he said. "The environment here made me want to do everything I could."
Brewer said he’s still making up his mind about his plans for the future. He wants to either join the Navy or go to college to pursue a career in criminal justice.
He said he’s interested in the military because of all the experiences it offers.
"I’d love to sky-dive," he said. "That’s part of the reason I want to go to the military, just because of all the doors that open. ... Anything I want to do, they have a class for it."