ROTC program doing wonders for JPS studentsBy JOE MAXWELL,
What if 95 percent of Jackson Public School seniors graduated every year sporting an average 2.9 GPA with a 93-percent acceptance rate to institutions of high learning?
These are the actual figures for JPS's JROTC cadets—year in and year out. These cadets constitute a full quarter of JPS’s yearly graduates.
And it doesn’t stop there.
l 246 JROTC JPS graduates last year received $6.8 million in scholarships.
l 1,900 cadets grades 9-12 boasted a 94-percent class attendance rate. Fifty-one-thousand community service hours were logged by cadets.
The above numbers outstrip most of the state's independent schools.
“We want to recognize, encourage and inspire our cadets,” says Col. Paul Willis, who has been JPS’s JROTC Director of Army Instruction since 2004.
When Col. Willis speaks, you believe it.
So a reasonable question is: Will the new 15-member JPS overhaul committee charged with rescuing and redesigning JPS’s educational system make JPS’s JROTC a priority in future planning?
It’s hard to fathom why they wouldn’t.
Committee member Leland Speed recently met with Willis and took note of JROTC’s excellent track record. “The numbers are very impressive,” he told Mississippi Matters, adding, “... These numbers give us the basis for hope.”
Why recreate the wheel? For more than 70 years, the Army Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps Program in Jackson has rolled out excellent students.
Jacksons JROTC started at Central High School in 1936, then was transferred to Lanier High School in 1971 when Central High School was phased out.
Over eight decades, it has never wavered to instill a tried-and-true formula that I like to call the “3 Ds”: discipline, delayed gratification, and dreaming big. Original Central High graduates have told me as much—as have recent JPS graduates.
Cadets are given goals to shoot for in character development, academic improvement, healthy living, civic involvement, college testing and college entrance.
They learn to dream big.
But dreams aren’t realized without the discipline to attain them and the willingness to delay one's gratification. JROTC seems unparalleled in helping JPS students experience and understand this on multiple levels.
”JROTC classes focus on leadership, character development and provide life skills,” says Col. Willis.
Isn’t that what every parent of every student in Mississippi wants?
JPS's teachers and administration praise JROTC’s ability to pull off such amazing results. Uniformly, they wish more students could enroll. And, interestingly, there is no official military commitment required of cadets.
“Based on student interest, we could double the number of cadets we currently have,” says Willis. He could, that is, if the funds were there.
But the funds aren't there for Willis to grow the program.
Funding for Jackson’s JROTC is dropping and therefore so are cadet numbers, from 2,293 cadets in 2012-2013 to 1,701 students today.
JROTC is funded half by the local school district and half by the U.S. Army. Currently JROTC receives $2.60 million from JPS and $2.64 million from the Army. About $300,000 is added by charitable sources.
The problem is that federal funding has declined (for reasons not fully explained to Willis in a recent letter from the Army), and thus so have the number of JPS instructors and programs. In 2013/14, JPS JROTC had 30 instructors. Today it has 23 and that is destined to fall without any intervention. One of those 23 instructors is actually fully funded by JPS itself, and others have been subsidized when the Army’s funding has lapsed.
Willis sees a day a few years out when his program could be down to 14 instructors.
That’s where community advocates including Ben Minefield are stepping in. “JROTC is a catalytic force combining discipline structure and academic preparedness among high school students,” says Minefield, who represents the College Options Foundation that works to help fund and field local JROTC programs.
Currently, JPS JROTC has support from diverse organizations, including:
$100,000 – 100 Black Men of Jackson, Inc. via a grant from Hilton Corp.
$102,600 – JSU Interdisciplinary Nanotoxicity Center Summer Institute
$10,000 – National Flight Academy
$10,000 – American Legion Post 1776
$3,000 – Military Order of World Wars
Can you imagine what the program could do if top local charitable organizations and benefactors were galvanized not only to steady the program’s current needs but increase the program's scope significantly?
Can you imagine what JPS's entire academic program might be like if the 15-member overhaul committee can instill throughout JPS realizable goals and measures for discipline, delayed gratification and dreams such as JROTC accomplishes?
Drawn from a JROTC report, below are traits virtually certifiably proven to be instilled in cadets.
Greater ability to cope with frustration
Better attitude…more positive
Improved time management
More respectful and caring for others
Decision making and consequences of selecting risky behavior
Motivational gurus, top CEOs and pro athletes charge thousands of dollars per speech to teach adults how to attain the above traits.
JROTC teaches them free of charge to any JPS teen.
That’s almost too good to be true. But it is true.
Joe Maxwell is a Northsider.