A course in leadership, life

April 10, 2002|By Laura Shovan | Laura Shovan,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Many teens at Howard High School in Ellicott City wear bared midriffs and huge, slouchy jeans like they see on pop stars.

Then there are those 40 kids in olive suits with blue and gold braid decorating the shoulders. Their appearance is influenced by the military, not MTV. Once a week, students in the Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps must wear their uniforms to school for inspection.

"A lot of people think of it as just military. [But] it teaches some of the social skills that students are going to need in the workplace," Principal Mary Day said.

JROTC is a graded elective course that focuses on leadership skills and citizenship. It is offered in more than 3,000 high schools nationwide. Unlike college ROTC, there is no obligation to join the military or to stay in the program throughout high school. Some students take the class for one semester; others stay with it from freshman year until they graduate.

The program is funded by local departments of education and the U.S. armed forces, which provide equipment and a portion of the instructors' salaries. Any student enrolled in a school with JROTC can join.

Day recruited senior Army instructor Maj. Sullivan Brown to teach the course in 1984, when Howard was chosen for the program. What has kept Brown, a retired officer, on the job for 18 years is watching his cadets develop. Each year, one of his students is chosen by his or her peers to be commander of the battalion.

"Every commander came in as a frightened ninth-grader and left as a confident leader," Brown said.

This year, that student is Cadet Maj. Tobii Quintern. "What she has developed is an ability to provide guidance and supervision" for her peers, Brown said.

`Easy to be a follower'

Quintern, 17, said she always wanted to join the military. "I wanted to see [if this was] for me. It's easy to be a follower, but being a leader takes a lot of strength," she said.

As a leader, Quintern has been a success. Last month, the battalion took fourth place overall at the Unarmed Regulation and Color Guard Competition. The battalion marched against schools from Maryland, Washington, Delaware and Virginia.

Quintern makes it clear that her cadets are the best JROTC in Howard County. This school year, they beat Atholton and Oakland Mills, the two other JROTC programs in the county, for first place in an annual competition.

"I wanted something that would give me a group of people I could associate with. We're a family," she said. "JROTC gave me an identity."

Brown's class is held in a small brick building separated from the school by a few yards. Inside are classrooms, an open area for inspection, a few offices and a large supply room with rows of uniforms. As commander, Quintern has her own office.

Although Brown and another instructor, Sgt. Garland Jackson, teach the class, students run many aspects of the program. They use their textbook, Leadership Education and Training, to help plan lessons on physical fitness, first aid, geography and citizenship.

The focus on citizenship has made an impression on Corey Mitchell. In his fourth year with the program, the 17-year-old is first lieutenant and company commander. In November, he joined the Army Reserve as a chaplain's assistant.

"I like the interaction with people, having to step out of my shell, act like a manager," Mitchell said. "By ... being company commander, I'm getting experience in how to lead others."

Brown said planning for life after high school is one of the program's goals. The military style is a means to that end. "We use drill and ceremonies to help them work together as a team," he said.

Stress on education

"The skills we try to enhance are the personal skills they will use in any vocation they may choose. Our stress is on continuing education," not military.

"JROTC requires high standards, not only in this class but in other classes as well," Mitchell said. "It requires you to excel."

Other students, he added, "understand it's a good thing but they don't understand the significance of what this program can do."

Information: Atholton High School, Lt. Col. Robert Thomas, 410-313-7076; Howard High School, Maj. Sullivan Brown, 410-313-2867; Oakland Mills High School, Air Force Col. Carl Nowack, 410-313-6945. The Web site for JROTC is www.jrotc.org.

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