Teaching Army values

THE BALTIMORE SUN

School board member Thomas G. Hiltz, Once a week, 72 students arrive at Winters Mill High School in Westminster dressed in green Class A Army uniforms -- black polished shoes and all.

Their jackets are neatly pressed, their ties and name tags straight. They wear crisply pointed garrison caps. In the afternoon, they stand at attention in two rows in the school hallway as other student-officers inspect their uniforms from the tops of their caps to the tips of their shoes.

The 72 students are part of Carroll County's first high school Junior ROTC program, an Army-sponsored program that began at Winters Mill in the fall.

Winters Mill Principal Sherri-Le W. Bream told school board members recently that she was pleased with the program.

"It's been overwhelmingly embraced by the faculty, staff and student body at Winters Mill," Bream said, adding that it helps set a serious and professional tenor among the students.

The JROTC program is designed to teach students citizenship, leadership, community service and responsibility, while instilling self-esteem, teamwork and self-discipline, according to the Army's Web site.

Army officials and members of the county school board recently approved the same program at Century High School in Eldersburg, starting in the next school year.

The students take "Leadership Education and Training" as one class in their four-period day. A typical week consists of three days of lectures and coursework, one day of physical training and one day of drill and ceremony, when they wear their uniforms for inspection.

Senior David Marcus, 17, of Westminster said he signed up for what he thought was a leadership class, not knowing he was going to have to "wear a uniform and march around."

"Seriously, the first day everyone was like 'What did I get myself into?'" he said. "But, now I think everyone likes it."

Sophomore Robby Eyler, 16, of Westminster said the students usually listened to lectures, studied history and learned military formations in class. For the coming final exam, they are required to memorize "The Star-Spangled Banner," the Cadet Creed and the Pledge of Allegiance, he said.

JROTC sponsored a school-wide drive that compiled enough supplies for 40 care packages for troops overseas. Outside of class, many students participate in other JROTC-related activities.

Some cadets are responsible for raising and lowering the school's flags. The color guard appears at football games and special events, including the school's Veterans Day ceremony and last week's school board meeting.

Junior Matthew Clarke, 18, of Westminster also enjoyed rappelling with some of the other cadets during a field trip one weekend at Camp Fretterd, a Maryland Army National Guard facility in Reisterstown.

"A lot of people were nervous at first, but in the end everyone went down," he said.

After school, students on the drill team practice marching and obeying commands, while members of the Cadet Raider Challenge team brush up on map orientation and first-aid skills. Because the program is new, the teams have not yet competed against other schools, but the student-cadets said they looked forward to competitions this spring.

JROTC programs are taught by retired military personnel and two new instructors will be hired at Century.

According to retired Sgt. 1st Class Bobby Johnson, who teaches the program along with retired Col. Martin Compton, there are more than 30 students enrolled in a second level of the leadership course being offered for the spring semester and 20 students signed up for the first level.

Century's principal, Andrew Cockley, said he was excited about having the program at his school next fall.

"The JROTC program offers excellent leadership opportunities for many students who may not have had programs to associate themselves with before," Cockley said. "It gives students an identity in their school. Students who participated in these type of programs easily stand out; ... they take an active role in student activities."

School board member Thomas G. Hiltz, a former Naval Reserve commander, said he supported the establishment of the program since the two schools expressed interest several years ago.

"It's a program that's proven to be effective for both high-performing students and students who may need some additional support," Hiltz said. "I think it teaches people to stand independently and stand as a team. It introduces them to new skills and experiences that they many not have otherwise experienced."

The decision to start the program at Winters Mill met opposition from board member Laura K. Rhodes, who cast the single opposing vote when it was approved in October 2003.

She said her concerns about the program were still the same.

"I'm just not sure this is the best use of limited resources," Rhodes said. "My main concern is that we can use the same amount of money and get many more teachers who are more flexible in what they can teach."

She said she was also concerned with the school system's inability to approve the Army's JROTC curriculum; curriculum for all other areas taught in the county is developed and approved by the school system.

The cost of the program at Century will be similar to program costs at Winters Mill, which was a little over $50,000, according to Hiltz. He called the cost a "bargain" and said it was not a big issue considering the value of the program.

Before establishing the Winters Mill program, Carroll was one of the few counties in the state that did not have at least one JROTC program in any school, Hiltz said. Now, Winters Mill is one of 21 Army JROTC programs across the state. The Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps also have programs in Maryland's high schools.

Senior Amber Falcone, 17, of Westminster said she thought the program would continue to grow.

"I know a lot of students are really interested in our uniforms. They see us in the halls and are like 'Oh, what are those kids doing?'" she said.

The success of the program at Winters Mill laid the foundation for other schools that may be interested in these programs, Hiltz said.

"My belief is that in order for the program to work, it has to be embraced by the school ... and the entire community that supports the school," Hiltz added. "So as long as the school and the community are willing to support (ROTC programs), I would support them being placed in our high schools."

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