Corvuss Strengthening Student-Athletes In India, Offering American High School Diploma

In an exclusive interaction with BW, Kunal Maria, Founder of Corvuss American Academy, talks about his brainchild - boarding school that provides an opportunity to student-athlete to be able to excel in the sport of their choice without having to compromise on the quality of education. He also shares the key details, such as curriculum, methodology, fee structure, degree, of the school. Excerpts:

Elaborate on the inception and journey of Corvuss American Academy. What was the need for such a platform and what is the mission and vision for the same?

I have been born and raised in India and have completed my education here through ICSE first and then in the IB and then Law school and there was one common thread throughout the entire journey was my love for basketball. I played basketball for the state and the national team. It was always that balance that I tried to get in my life growing up, between basketball and academics, and one of the things my family was really strong about was you can play the sport (for that they were always supportive) but make sure that the grades were always maintained and education was at the forefront. So, it was only when I flew the nest and went to the US that I realised that sport and education go hand in hand. 

There are tremendous opportunities for students who play sport at a particular level and use that to get into leading colleges but at the end of the day, you study in the same classroom as any other Math or Science genius. So, that really struck a chord with me because I grew up in India playing and studying and that’s when the journey for Corvuss American Academy started. We started putting the pieces together and really started getting our faculty, our team in place so that we give the next generation of student-athletes that platform. The vision is simple – to give every student-athlete out there an opportunity to be able to excel in the sport of their choice without having to compromise on the quality of education that they get. The mission of Corvuss American Academy is to connect with the community and give young children between grades 6th-12th this platform to be able to make the most of their dreams. The end goal is to give each of these young children that platform to be able to excel. 

What kind of acceptance have you seen till now?

We have just started with our admissions. It has been really exciting because we have got queries from not only India but overseas as well from the Philippines, Thailand, Middle East and that’s really encouraging to see. Having set this program up because we see that these children in all these countries including India have the same issues which is basically how (after a certain level, basically when they hit grade 8th and 9th) to balance academics and sports and that is how we are providing that platform for them. We are connecting with more and more families across India. Because we are a boarding school, we have the ability and space to provide world-class facilities under one roof. So, it’s been an interesting and fun journey so far. We really in the thick of admissions. 

How will you differentiate Corvuss from other academies in the same domain and how do you plan to compete with them?

While the school name has the word “academy”, in essence, we are an elite boarding school. We are a modelled along the lines of an international US-European prep school that give student-athletes or students, a platform and an environment in which they can train at a high level across seven different sports that we have but at the same time they are studying. Unlike some of the other fantastic academy across the country, over the last decade, there are so many academies that have come up which is fascinating and great to see, we integrate education. Education is the heartbeat of what we offer and that is how we really differentiate. A lot of times children have to be shuttled around - they have a school somewhere and have a training session somewhere else. In our situation, it is all in-house. From your education to your schooling to your nutrition, your conditioning, physiotherapy, all your classroom activity everything is taken care of at one place and we integrate world-class technology into this. So, anything that a parent and young student out there who wants to excel, we offer them. 

Enlighten us on the curriculum and the methodology that you will use for student-athletes. 

The most important thing, when my wife and I started with this journey and started piecing each of these elements together was to be able to give the best possible platform to the young students across India. There are two curricula woven together– the academics piece and the sports piece.

The sports piece, we have seven different sports that we offer – football, tennis, squash, track and field, basketball, swimming and cricket. For six of the seven sports, we have international sports partners from both the US and Europe. Each of these curricula and each of our programs is developed by our international sports partners and they provide a head coach that runs a similar program like theirs in the overseas country here in India for the entire year. 

Now as I told you earlier, education is the heartbeat of what we offer. So, what we wanted to do was provide the right academic curriculum that doesn’t conflict with sports training. It basically needs to go hand in hand and in a sense, they must work with each other rather than having a conflict. This is where the problem today lies in India. Sports and education are always at a conflict.

At Corvuss, we treat them as the two sides of the same coin. The academic curriculum that we chose is a US middle school and high school curriculum, it’s modelled along the lines of what has been successful in the US and we bring a similar curriculum to India. That curriculum has been designed by our team based out of the US in Princeton. So they have put the pieces together and both the education and sports go hand in hand, that is the USP that is what we really feel will make the difference in giving the children ability and the flexibility to be able to balance between education and sports. 

Talking about the academics, which degree will the students get?

In India, CBSE and ICSE are popular in the north and IB too is becoming popular. The reason that we didn’t pick either of those is while they are fantastic curriculum the struggle happens for the students who want to pursue sports at a reasonably high level. It is hard for sports training to be integrated with the curriculum because those are very inflexible and structured. That’s the reason why we picked an American high school diploma. It is accredited by one of the accreditation agencies of the US and recognised by universities worldwide including India. A student that comes for our program will have global acceptance and be able to pursue the sport as well the academics hand in hand that’s the reason why we picked this curriculum. 

How are you aligning Corvuss with the government initiatives in promoting sports in the country?

It is very important to praise the government for what they are doing in sports. Over the last ten years and, I not too long away was a basketball player, the biggest issue going up was the constant struggle was in between finding the right facilities to train. Over the last decade what I have seen is that the number of leagues have come up in India. The constant initiatives by the government to develop infrastructure, help some major global sporting events from the Commonwealth Games to Under 17 Football World Cup to now the Khelo India Games. These are some of the phenomenal initiatives. As a young athlete, while you know you are talented it is very important to go out there and express yourself and show that you are talented so that you can perform at the higher level. This is made easier with some of the government initiatives that they are carrying out both at the central and the state level. It does need support from the private sector which is where we want to come into space. There are corporates who are backing sports in a big way, there are leagues popping up. So there are lots more opportunities for young students across India and where we fit into the spectrum is at the school level. I am a believer that we have to nurture today’s talent at the middle school and high school levels, basically grade 6 to 12. More and more students are groomed there then we will start producing at a higher level. 

Look at Badminton in India, due to some initiatives from the Government and private sector, we are now a global power in this game. Kudos to the government for their phenomenal job and it is our responsibilities as citizens as well as the private sector to be able to support this ecosystem in India. I am pretty sure that in the next decade we will going to see even more progress. 

Going forward, how you plan to expand the academy?

So, our first goal is our campus in Karjat in Maharashtra. It’s a 44-acre campus where we have developed 24 acres in Phase 1. We have some great facilities that are developed hand-in-hand with our partners internationally. They had a big say in terms of infrastructure, the technologies on the campus. The vision is to grow and support the entire sports development and movement in our country so we do want to have a few centres across India and then focus towards the Middle East and South-East Asia which would also be a great market for us. Coming back to your question, we believe in what we are doing. The interactions we had with the families suggests that there is a requirement and the need so we do want to scale it from there.

Every start-up comes across some challenges. What are the challenges you faced and how did you overcome them?

The first and foremost, the biggest challenge is addressing the mindset and the conflict which arises between sports and education right now. We all have faced this phase in life when we enter grade 8 and 9. Invariably the academic pressures push down the passion to pursue sports. However, when we sit with families and tell them what we offer in terms of mentoring and grooming the child in a system where sports and education go hand-in-hand, and then the opportunities we give them at a global level like- to able to apply for college applications abroad, is when they open up.

In terms of other challenges, I would say it is being able to reach these fantastically talented children across India. The need of the hour is that more people should get to know about us, especially the young student-athletes across India.  

What is the fee structure of Corvuss American Academy? Please differentiate between normal schooling for the training and the boarding school.

Let me answer this by mentioning one more hurdle. In India, for some reason, we families, treat sports training as an extra-curricular activity that is free. Now let me put this straight that sports training, like any other thing in life if you want to get the best training, isn’t cheap. It isn’t inexpensive. You have to put in the effort and the families are now realizing that. Coming back to the question, we are a boarding facility and our fees at Grade 6 start from 17 odd lakhs upwards. But most schools in India range anywhere between 5 lakhs to 20 lakhs, depending upon the type of curriculum, the type of school and whether it is boarding or non-boarding.

The fee includes training, boarding, food which is curated by the specialized nutritionist keeping in mind each of the requirements of a particular sport. Our training curriculum is curated keeping in mind what is the best interest of each child. So, it is not that every child is the same, therefore the training is customized based on the performance. For example, in Tennis, if I have an event coming in two weeks, not everyone will be playing at the same level. So, we will customize to ensure that the child is optimized by the time he/she is about to play at the event. In addition, it includes sports conditioning on our campus, Physiotherapists on campus to ensure proper diagnosis of an injury is done. In the higher grades, it will include college counselling, SAT preparation all of that. Therefore, when you compare it especially with the academies in the west, we are a third of the cost. 

What is your initial investment for the academy?

Initially, our focus has been on our sports infrastructure and meeting international standards. Therefore the biggest thing we have done is to work with our sports partners to develop our own infrastructure here. With the efforts and initiatives of close family and friends, we’ve been able to set-up our campus and offer all the facilities adequate to train young student-athletes. 

What goals have you decided for your academy this year and for the coming five years?

Over the next year, we want to get our first batch on campus and give them the best in-kind training and the best in kind education. We want to ensure that they developing at a pace that we feel they must be developing at. Constantly communicating with our partners, both domestically and internationally, to ensure that they get the best platform to excel. Later, on the basis of these, we want to curate a plan over the next several years, wherein, we give each of the student-athletes the bets potential placement opportunities into the colleges abroad or in India that offer great sports platform where the students can continue training at the highest level while they get a good education degree, which is equally important.  So, the five-year goal is to get the maximum possible placements for our student-athletes across the sports and the short term goal is to take each of these athletes into the campus and hand-hold them through their development.

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