Bethesda Welcomes New President to Enhance New Curriculum

Kim Wade

Monday, August 8th, 2016

The new president of Bethesda Academy, a private, boarding and day school for young men in grades six through 12, will tell you that he’s “about the most informal retired Army lieutenant colonel you’ll ever meet.” Michael Hughes, or Mike as he likes to be called, will lead Bethesda Academy’s unique students and staff in the new school year as well as the next step in Bethesda’s mission to create community leaders with the school’s new “Lead the Way” curriculum.

Hughes started out his career with 22 years in the Army and “did all the things you do as an Infantry officer.” Highlights include an overseas commitment in Korea before the Army sent him to University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill to earn his master’s degree in education. From there he became a professor at the United States Military Academy at West Point. He was then selected into a doctorate program at the University of Virginia where he earned his PhD in counselor education and became a board certified counselor with an area of expertise in adolescence; specifically in boys with a focus on the transition from boys to men.

During his time at West Point, Hughes said he not only taught the cadets about leadership and motivation, but he also taught the faculty how to counsel the cadets. “I served as the Director of the Center for Enhanced Performance,” he said. “It’s still there and it’s one of the most innovative centers in the world to help people in everything from improving academic performance to taking tests … and handling stress to enhance performance.” 

He said he was also the author of program at West Point called the Student Success Program which he is bringing to Bethesda. “It’s basically about how to be organized, how to manage your time, how to take notes, how to plan and structure your day and time and development habits … that will make you the most effective.”

And while Hughes hopes to continue to be a good role model at the Bethesda campus, he said he was drawn to counseling through a lesson he learned from one of his role models.  “One of my role models in the Army was good at listening to me,” he explained. “I sort of learned the lesson early on that listening is an important skill. … I got a great deal of joy and satisfaction from helping my soldiers meet their own personal goals as well as the military’s. … For me it became kind of a passion; helping people.  

“… I’ve just got a real vision for helping young boys become men of high character who have skills to succeed in college and life.”

And Hughes said that his vision includes incorporating the academy’s new Lead the Way initiative. He said the boys at Bethesda are truly a unique group and that families enroll their sons at the academy for more than just academics. “It’s also a character building process.”

“Every boy has a job; every boy does a work study and an internship. We try to help them build skills that will help them move forward.  We are able to help boys to find a way to fit in and find a passion. …

“We have a staff and faculty that really care and want to make that connection. …  They don’t wander around all day checking their cellphones and living in a Facebook world.”

Hughes described the new Lead the Way program as a strategic plan created by the academy’s board and senior leadership team that will completely transform Bethesda Academy.  “It reenergizes and focuses what we are going to do on three vectors: leadership, entrepreneurship and sustainability.”

This fall will see the launch of the pilot year of the program, and the leadership portion will create a structure where every student is a follower and a worker. 

“For students living in the dorms, each student will either be a one-on-one leader, a small team leader or you are a group leader. In the classroom, someone is a teacher’s assistant, someone is an assistant to teacher’s assistant, someone handles room set up and so on. …  So, it’s not just in student council; everything is about leadership. So, when a young man graduates from here, one of the things that you can know about him is that he’s got some leadership skills.”

And Hughes said the entrepreneurship program will build on the current work study program at Bethesda.  “What we do is combine with the work study program and teach the boys small business skills; how to do a business plan and how to use all your skills and resources in terms of thinking about entrepreneurial ideas.”

Of course, with the organic farm on campus, furthering the students’ knowledge of sustainability is a natural course of action. “We are doing some innovative things with our cattle program,” Hughes explained. “You live on a farm and you go to school on a farm, so it’s a great opportunity.

“We are looking into solar resources and gaining solar partnerships. So, from farming to the way we take care of the campus to the way we use some of the food we grow on the campus in our dining hall … it all really speaks to sustainability.” 

And Hughes added that he does not want the Lead the Way program to be limited to campus activities. “We are seeking partnerships and building those partnerships in the community and in the larger region to accomplish those goals,” he said.  

One possible partnership he hopes to gain is with Savannah Technical College. “We discussed the idea of partnering with them so some of our boys can take some of their college courses and even be their partner in helping our boys. What a dream it would be if a Bethesda student could graduate with an associate’s degree as well. … They have an incredible array of what they offer and these are things that are directly applicable to college and beyond.” 

Hughes said the new program is not only to help his students, but to help the Savannah community. “What a gift to Savannah it would be to graduate new and aspiring community leaders … who have character.  We are not ashamed to talk them about things like your responsibilities as young man, a husband, a family man and a father, and even more than that; your responsibilities in the community and the importance of giving back and being a leader. … We think the partnership aspect of this new program really has potential to really benefit Savannah and Georgia as well as the whole region.”

And Hughes added that the new program is also a great way to connect his students to the mainstream part of the community.  “They are going to a different type of school; it’s all boys and fairly structured, so this program opens their horizons.”