The Examiner U-46 News Feed
Potential JROTC program in U-46 sparks debate
By Seth Hancock
The Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) program could be coming to School District U-46 as part of the planned career pathway academies at district high schools, but there are differing views on the program.
As part of a June 4 presentation on the career pathways, the district said the JROTC program could be a part of “two to three high schools.” JROTC is offered through all branches of the military.
At a July 23 board meeting, two members of American Legion Elgin Post 57 spoke in support of the JROTC during public comments while five members of the public, most of whom are members of Fox Valley Citizens for Peace and Justice, spoke against it at the June 4 meeting.
“The JROTC mission is to instill the values of citizenship, service to the United States, personal responsibility and a sense of accomplishment,” said Craig Essick, commander of Post 57. “The primary goal of the program is to motivate young people to be better citizens. We cannot think of a better goal for U-46 students as they pursue an education and learn the true meaning of citizenship and service to our communities.”
“It is important that we serve the community by helping those students who need that direction, who need that leadership,” said Daniel Symonds, an executive committee member for Post 57, who added that JROTC provides an “understanding of what it means to be a citizen of the United States. I think that’s lost on this generation and generations after it and in the future. It needs to be instilled.”
Essick is a retired colonel with the United States Army and Symonds is a member of the Army Reserve.
Those opposed to JROTC said they were concerned with militarization and targeting minority and low-income students for military recruitment among other concerns.
“I feel it is part of the increasing militarization of our whole society, and I find that very troubling because I am a pacifist and an advocate for peace and justice,” said Mary Shesgreen. She said JROTC “sends students the message that force and violence really do solve problems, that they are a primary way to solve problems.”
Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford said she had “moral and ethical concerns about training children to shoot weapons in our schools.” She said “most students are given marksmanship training” with what she called “lethal weapons.”
JROTC does offer marksmanship training and competitions using air rifles that shoot pellets which are not generally known as lethal weapons.
Bettina Perillo claimed there are negative health effects associated with the JROTC and said members of the military have an “increased mental health risk including substance abuse and suicide.” She cited a policy statement from the American Public Health Association which opposed “military recruiting in the nation’s primary and secondary schools because of the substantial negative health effect, negative health repercussions for teens.”
However, both Essick and Symonds said there are no military obligations for JROTC students, and they said the program leads to positive results for students.
“It doesn’t mean you’re going to force them into military service, nor are they going to militarize the schools at all,” Symonds said. “I believe it is something that gives those students who are lost, who need direction, that direction, leadership, period. And I think this is something that is important to the citizens of Elgin and the students of Elgin.”
“There is no military obligation for the graduates,” Essick said. “All students can benefit, regardless of whether they plan to enter into military service in the future.”
Essick said that the JROTC has a rigorous curriculum which teach collaboration, critical thinking and leadership while also promoting healthy lifestyles. He said JROTC “delivers results.”
“Cadets exceed national averages in grade point average (GPA), attendance and graduation rates,” Essick said. “Cadets also demonstrate substantially lower dropout rates and records of disciplinary incidents. These are results that align with our community vision for the future success of U-46 students.”
According to the Army JROTC website, its students have an average GPA of 2.91 compared to 2.72 for the general student population, they have a 93.5 percent attendance rate compared to 90.3 percent, they have a 94 percent graduation rate compared to 83 percent and they have a dropout rate under 1 percent compared to 8 percent.
Also according to the Army JROTC, student outcomes from the program include that they “act with integrity and personal accountability as they lead others to succeed in a diverse and global workforce,” “engage civic and social concerns in the community, government, and society,” “graduate prepared to excel in post-secondary options and career pathways,” “make decisions that promote positive social, emotional, and physical health” and “value the role of the military and other service organizations.”
Shesgreen said it is “not fair to be offering ROTC to students as an example of a good and noble pathway,” but for Symonds it may be unfair not to provide the program.
Symonds said his father, older brother, two nephews and a niece are all JROTC graduates, but the program was not offered at his school when he attended. He said JROTC offers “unique, cool” experiences citing his niece learning to fly an airplane at 16 years old.