Students in Trinity High School’s Army Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps are easy to spot.
Every Wednesday, the 90 cadets enrolled in the JROTC program, in its inaugural year, wear their uniforms.
Josh Larkin, 16, a junior honor roll student who plans to join a college ROTC program and become a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army, said he felt a sense of pride the first time he put on his uniform.
“I felt like I was part of something much bigger,” said Larkin. “(JROTC) has been outstanding. For a first-time program, it’s doing very well, and all of us are really into it.”
The program – the only JROTC program in Washington County – may be in its infancy, but principal Carol Lee said students are responding well to the new class.
“We’re very pleased with the program. We have a variety of students involved, particularly students who didn’t feel a connection to the school in the past,” said Lee. “It’s a new opportunity for them to get connected. If a cadet is having difficulty in class, either behaviorally or with grades, Maj. (Erek) Clacks is quick to let us know.”
The school’s JROTC curriculum follows guidelines set by the U.S. Army.
Classes include topics like civics, geography and global awareness, health and wellness, public speaking and U.S. history, and are taught by Clacks, a retired Army major, and retired Command Sgt. Maj. David P. Massullo.
JROTC has its share of critics, but Clacks said the program is not a recruiting tool. The main goal, he said, is to teach leadership and good citizenship.
“The basis of this program is leadership. We want them to learn discipline, leadership and responsibility. We want them to be leaders in their local community and the world community,” said Clacks. “We are going to be an asset to this community. It’s going to be something positive.”
“This class teaches life skills they can apply as adults,” said Massullo. “We’re concerned about graduation rates and them being prepared for their future.”
The cadets practice drills and plan to participate in JROTC drill competitions, local parades and a military ball.
In September, the cadets were responsible for installing and maintaining more than 500 flags that lined Trinity High School as part of a 9/11 memorial.
They also served as greeters at open house.
The program costs about $142,800 a year, including the instructors’ salaries and operating expenses, and is paid for entirely by the school district. Trinity’s JROTC program is a National Defense Cadet Corps program, which is not federally funded like other JROTC programs are.
Clacks has tried to reduce costs and managed to collect uniforms and accessories worth about $40,000 from other JROTC programs.
Clacks said the number of students enrolled in the JROTC’s first year (they receive one credit toward graduation) is encouraging.
The program has drawn students with a wide range of academic, athletic and extracurricular interests, and Larkin said the cadets enjoy the challenge and thrive on the hard work and displine required to complete it.
“We’re going to learn a lot,” said Larkin. “If we can learn even one lesson, I think it will be how to be able to have that discipline and how to represent ourselves in a way that will help us be successful.”