This year, the Lodi Unified School District Board of Education was asked to allow McNair High School to pursue the addition of a Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps program to their offerings. The vote was split 4 to 3 in favor of adding the program. Even though I can appreciate the reasons why some may be opposed to the addition of such a program, I believe that benefits of a well-run Junior ROTC program far outweigh any perceived drawbacks.
It should be the mission of every school district to prepare their students for the next step in life, whatever that step might be. Offerings should be broad to allow students to pursue whatever path they might choose. This is why, in addition to the traditional academic courses, we also offer classes in the so-called Career and Technical Education, or CTE, fields. We offer classes in culinary arts, the medical field, computing and agriculture, as well as many others. The Junior ROTC program will fit into this realm as well.
The vision of Junior ROTC is to "provide a quality citizenship, character and leadership development program, while fostering partnerships with communities and educational institutions." To accomplish this lofty vision, the program has classes like Citizenship in Action, Leadership Theory and Application, and Foundations of Success. The program teaches duty and community involvement by expecting participants to be volunteers at elementary schools and in the wider community as well. The Junior ROTC program also contains a demanding physical training element that pushes students to confront new challenges that not only condition the body, but also instill individuals with a "can-do" attitude and a sense of pride of accomplishment.
In addition to the above classes, Junior ROTC also teaches students some of the basics common to all of our armed forces such as Drill and Ceremonies, proper methods of wearing and maintaining uniforms, and the military rank structure. These areas give our students a head start should they decide that the military is the choice they would like to make upon graduation. It is also helpful should they decide to continue to pursue ROTC in college and enter the services as a commissioned officer.
Further, statistics indicate that the Junior ROTC program produces results. Attendance for participants is up more than 3 percent and GPA and test scores are up 2 percent over school averages. At the same time, graduation rates are up by 9 percent. One more impressive statistic is that discipline issues are a full 10 percent lower than school averages. The teaching and emphasis placed on traditional values by the Junior ROTC program and instructors works.
The argument of whether or not to offer Junior ROTC must be based on the program alone and not anyone's opinion of the military or the possibility of our students entering the armed forces after graduation. Like it or not, some of our students will join the armed forces regardless of Lodi Unified's decision to offer Junior ROTC. Speaking from experience, I can say that the military is a viable and honorable career. Just like the pathways we offer for other careers, we need to make this one available as well.
George Neely is the president of the Lodi Unified School District board of trustees and a military veteran.