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Ed. Magazine

A Sporting Chance: William Maxwell

William Maxwell

William MaxwellWhat is your true calling? That is one of the questions a student entering the Global Academy for International Advancement (GAIA) must answer before he or she is admitted. This knowledge, says William Maxwell, Ed.M.'64, C.A.S.'65, Ed.D.'67, is the basis for success at the school he moved from Arizona to Tirana, Albania to start. The first class of students is slated to begin in September 2012.

The seed for GAIA was planted in 1964 when Maxwell was an Ed School student. Professor Anne Roe urged the incoming doctoral class to design a model school for the 21st century.

"I thought, 'Wow, what a great challenge,'" Maxwell says. It was another of Maxwell's professors, George Goethals, who suggested that sports be central in the curriculum. "[This] was a heresy at the time in every scholastic and academic institution on the planet, except behind the Iron Curtain, where sports were turned into a propaganda tool." Still, the idea stuck.

Almost 50 years and many professional achievements later — including serving as the first principal of the first postsecondary institution in southeastern Nigeria and founding the International Conference on Thinking — Maxwell's academy in which both athletics and academics are emphasized is becoming a reality thanks to an invitation from the National Olympic Committee of Albania, a country that is among the 100 nations that have never won an Olympic medal.

"Albania's Olympic and ministerial leadership recognized the powerful morale boost an Olympic medal would [give] a nation coming out of centuries of despotic rule," Maxwell explains.

The academy — which Maxwell likens to Plato's academy — seeks to create well-rounded and successful student-athletes. Students begin their training at home from age 3.5, then at age 12 become full-time residents at GAIA. At the end of six years — at the age of 18 or so — students will have earned a high school diploma and a bachelor's degree. Each day consists of three hours of classroom lessons and three hours of athletics, and students spend at least six hours a week working with their hands in activities such as gardening and woodworking. Students also spend two hours in individual and group study.

When working in groups, Maxwell says teams coach, tutor, encourage, and inspire one another. "The usual negative effects of peer pressure are transmuted into a very powerful positive force."

For students, failure is not an option, says Maxwell. In fact, parents are given a guarantee: At the end of the program, their child will be admitted to one of the world's top 100 graduate or professional schools and/or make his or her nation's Olympic team. If neither is accomplished, any tuition paid is refunded.

Failure isn't an option for Maxwell either. Having invested his and his wife's life savings into the start-up of the academy, he has more than just his reputation at stake. Still, he's confident that the students chosen to enroll will lead his long-planned academy to success.

"Everyone is born with at least one outstanding talent, usually more than one, which is one's 'true calling,'" he says. "My true callings include a high intuition to find talent."

Ed. Magazine

The magazine of the Harvard Graduate School of Education

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