BY JACKIE STRAWBRIDGE
Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), chair of the City Council Education Committee, said last week at a City Hall hearing that he opposes Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) programs in high schools.
JROTC was founded through the National Defense Act of 1916. Its mission today is to teach subjects such as physical fitness, critical and creative thinking and effective communication.
“Although they’re prohibited from directly recruiting, the whole glorification of war is what I object to,” Dromm said. “If it were for adults, it’d be different. But these [programs] are for children.”
JROTC is not designed to function as a recruitment tool, although it offers enlistment incentives, such as advanced enlistment rank. JROTC students – referred to as cadets – can also receive an award for recruiting classmates into JROTC.
Francis Lewis High School in Fresh Meadows has one of the largest JROTC programs in the nation. According to Lt. Col. Albert Lahood, senior army instructor with Francis Lewis JROTC, very few of his cadets go into the military after graduation.
This year, of the 123 graduating cadets at Francis Lewis, seven will enlist.
Funding for JROTC comes jointly from the City and the Federal government. The curriculum is designed by the military, and covers public speaking, American History, geography and first aid, among many other topics.
Cadets might also participate in programs ranging from community service trips and science camps to rappelling, drill formation and air rifle competitions. Prohibited JROTC training includes live firing of rifles and tactical training, such as patrolling and ambushing.
Barbara Harris is a former City public school teacher. In a letter released through her organization, Granny Peace Brigade, she asked, “how does the City Council and the NYC Dept. of Education justify the display of facsimile guns and weapons in school assemblies, parades, drills and school events when there is a regulation of zero tolerance for such weapons in schools or on school grounds?”
Lahood described JROTC not as a militaristic endeavor, but as a means to build better students.
“We provide students a good grounding for success in whatever they do,” Lahood said, adding that for the two years he has been at Francis Lewis, JROTC had a 100 percent graduation rate, exceeding the school’s overall graduation rate.
“From things as simple as time management, to what I personally think is one of the most important, is self-motivation and to break that cycle of procrastination,” Lahood added.
Councilman Peter Koo (D-Flushing), who represents the district where Francis Lewis lies, said, “the JROTC program has been beneficial to many students who reside within my district, as it provides these young people with a career option to explore. Not only does JROTC training serve to prepare future leaders for a possible career with the greatest military the world has ever seen, but it also teaches valuable life skills, teamwork and a sense of discipline that can be employed in any aspect of that person’s young life.”
For Dromm, a major problem with JROTC is that “oftentimes these students come from lower income communities that don’t see any other alternatives to getting out of poverty or into college without these types of programs, and that’s what’s unfortunate.”
“We should have similar programs for students that promote peace and offer them scholarships, rather than have this type of program in our high schools,” Dromm added.
As of press time, the Dept. of Education could not confirm what percentage of City JROTC cadets are minority students.
Dromm said he has observed JROTC programs in action in Staten Island and at Francis Lewis High School, although he has had no direct contact with JROTC instructors.
“I have no relationship with the military,” he said.
Alongside Francis Lewis, three other Queens high schools offer JROTC: Long Island City High School, Aviation High School in Long Island City and John Bowne High School in Flushing.
Reach Jackie Strawbridge at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 128, firstname.lastname@example.org or @JNStrawbridge.