Issaquah High School ROTC is on chopping block
May 10, 2011
By Laura Geggel
Low enrollment cited as reason for possible elimination
After 39 years of camaraderie, learning and accomplishment, the Issaquah High School Navy Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps is facing the chopping block.
Unless the program can bring enrollment up to 100 students by Oct. 1, the U.S. Navy has announced it will close the unit by fall 2012. This year, Issaquah High has 70 students enrolled in its Navy Junior ROTC.
The numbers have decreased recently — in 2008, the program had 107 students; in 2009, there were 81 students; and at the beginning of 2010, there were 66 students.
Issaquah High is not the only school on tenterhooks — the Navy is cutting 19 programs nationwide at the end of this year. With only 59 students enrolled for next fall, district administrators fear Issaquah might be next in line to be cut.
“It’s a great program and we don’t like to cut units,” said Mike Miller, spokesman for Naval Service Training Command.
However, the U.S. Navy can’t continue to pay for programs that are not cost effective, and don’t reach at least 10 percent of the school, he said.
Issaquah’s students are stubbornly optimistic about their chances of surviving, and are recruiting at both the middle and high schools, hoping to increase their numbers.
“We’re not going anywhere,” senior Daniel Fine said.
Issaquah’s ROTC is holding a free fun day at the school May 14, complete with food, games, prizes and information. Students, parents and staff members will share their experiences and perform drills for the community.
Students — called cadets — spend an average of 15 hours volunteering in the community each year, but stereotypes still exist about ROTC. By employing their motto, “Learn to lead, choose to succeed,” cadets are working to save their program, both for themselves and for future students.
A history of junior ROTC
At one time, Issaquah School District’s three largest high schools had a junior ROTC program. Nationwide, there are more than 600 Navy Junior ROTC programs; Washington has 14.
Students can enter the four-year program at any point of their high school career. They learn about the values of citizenship, service to their country, personal responsibility and how to accomplish goals.
ROTC teaches cadets about life skills, including career planning, leadership, relationships, how to be an active and informed citizen, first aid and fitness. Along the way, cadets learn about naval history, geography and national defense.
“It’s the best choice of my high school career,” sophomore Taylor Stone said.
He said he enjoyed helping with security at school football games and directing traffic around the region, including at Salmon Days.
“It’s cool to be out behind the scenes and working with police,” Stone said. “It’s cool helping the community.”
Students need a respectable appearance, and Stone had to cut his long hair and wear a uniform every Wednesday so he could join the ROTC.
His instructor Larry Artman, said parents are astounded when their children, who have a messy room and never clean up after themselves, spend hours trying to reach perfection with their uniforms.
Cadets receive 1 credit each year they can apply toward physical education, or career and technical education.
The Navy pays for uniforms, and for half of the cost of the entire program. The district foots the other half of the bill, and the state pays the district money for the number of students taking a CTE credit. The district spends about $220,000 total for the Liberty and Issaquah High programs.
Junior ROTC at Skyline and Liberty
Skyline High School had an Air Force Junior ROTC program from 1997-2003, but it closed after a low student enrollment of 16. Students like senior Jordan Merritt chose to transfer from Skyline to Issaquah High, solely so she could take Navy Junior ROTC.
“The unit is just like a really big family,” Merritt said. “I’ve really made my best friends here.”
A shy student in middle school, Merritt now enjoys public speaking and leadership.
“I love this class,” she said. “I wouldn’t give it up for the world.”
Liberty’s program was initially joined with the program at Issaquah High, but the two split in 2001, when the Navy was able to spend more on extra programs, Liberty naval science instructor Al Torstenson said.
Even though its students give it rave reviews, Issaquah High’s enrollment is sinking — and middle school recruitment could be the culprit.
Typically, students from extracurricular classes visit the district’s five middle schools during lunch, giving the younger students a taste of what classes are available. This year, district administrators changed that format.
Instead of going to middle schools, electives set up booths at each high school information night for incoming freshman. The new configuration did not work well for Issaquah’s Navy Junior ROTC. In fact, Torstenson credited his program’s success to the strong ties it has with Maywood Middle School.
He and co-instructor Dan Joslin have their students send informational letters to every incoming freshman, and the ROTC color guard team performs at the Maywood campus.
“We canvass Maywood,” Torstenson said. “We get ourselves in there whenever we can.”
Once students enroll, they enter a family.
“My first chat with my freshmen is to welcome them aboard,” Torstenson said. “I say, ‘Please look around at the upperclassmen that you see in this room, and you will see your shipmates. That’s a special meaning in the Navy, a shipmate. If you’re in trouble, they will help you.’”
The ROTC stereotype
Another reason enrollment is falling could be related to misconceptions about the program.
The ROTC is not a recruiting program. Just like the national average, about 1 percent of Issaquah High students go into the U.S. armed forces.
“We teach leadership and we use the military model,” Torstenson said. “We’re not a military. We don’t want them to go into the military, frankly. We would rather they go on to higher education.”
Instead, using the Navy model, students learn about leadership, and everyone in the class earns a job and responsibility.
“We try to make it like a corporation, so they have job skills,” Artman said.
Students applying for leadership positions have to look sharp for their interviews and answer questions from their teachers and peers.
The line of command and responsibility is so carefully followed, that if a tree were to fall on him during class, “each kid knows what to do,” Artman said.
Cadets get other perks. They qualify for free SAT preparation and can apply for college scholarships.
If the Issaquah High program is canceled, students might be able to transfer to Liberty, but district administrators are hoping it doesn’t come to that.
“We’re doing all we can to keep the program afloat,” district Executive Director of Secondary Education Patrick Murphy said. “It’s got a long tradition at that school and it’s been a key connection for kids throughout the years at Issaquah High School. If we can, we’d like to keep it there.”
If you go
Issaquah Navy Junior ROTC Fun Day
- Noon to 1:30 p.m. May 14
- Issaquah High School
- 700 Second Ave. S.E.
- Call 837-6072 or email DeMarcoR@Issaquah.wednet.edu to learn more.
Laura Geggel: 392-6434, ext. 241, or email@example.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.