KENNEWICK -- Kennewick High School teachers and administrators are working to bring a Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps program to the school.
The Kennewick School Board recently gave administrators permission to apply with one of the branches of the military for a JROTC unit. Principal Van Cummings said applications have been sent to program offices for the Army, Air Force and Marine Corps.
If invited, Kennewick High would start the unit in the 2014-15 school year with a cap of 100 cadets.
The school faces a possible uphill battle in establishing the Tri-Cities' first JROTC unit because of federal budget cutbacks and program freezes at some branches. However, school officials said they are cautiously optimistic and the program has a lot to offer students.
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"To have someone else working with kids and help them graduate, we definitely need that," Cummings said.
JROTC was created early in the 20th century as an offshoot of the Army's ROTC program, which prepares college students to be officers.
JROTC cadets aren't required to join the military after high school. They wear uniforms, take classes on military topics, learn citizenship and leadership, and participate in military training, often alongside active-duty military personnel. The military services do, however, often offer incentives, such as accelerated promotion, for enlistees with JROTC experience.
There aren't many Army JROTC units in Washington. The Army has fewer than 10, with one at Walla Walla High School and two in Yakima. By comparison, Arkansas, a state with less than half the population of Washington, has 24 Army units.
Cummings helped establish an Air Force JROTC unit at Clarkston High School in 2000 when he served as a principal there before coming to Kennewick. That unit has about 100 cadets.
He said several teachers and administrators recently expressed interest in establishing a program at Kennewick High during a faculty meeting.
Cummings said there are many benefits to JROTC. Participating students typically have high grades, miss few school days and are less likely to get in trouble.
"We just think it's another opportunity for students to excel and gain leadership experience," he said.
The program also isn't overly expensive. Cummings said the district would have to pay 25 percent of the salaries and some benefits for two retired military personnel to teach classes and work with students. However, the federal government would pay for the rest, including classroom materials such as textbooks.
But the military has been less likely to pony up the money for new units. Heather Cleary, Richland School Board vice chairwoman, said her district has tried to establish a program at one of its high schools but has been put on a waiting list because of budget cuts.
Cummings said he's had conversations with Army officials at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, and they've indicated they aren't starting new units, but would move resources from a struggling program to another school. Information from the Air Force indicates they are adding units for the 2014-15 school year.
Regardless, Cummings said he expectes it to be months he will be able to update the board.