Instead of serving the country they focus on the community through the Washoe County School District’s JROTC programs, which exist in all 11 comprehensive high schools in the district. Sparks is home to three of the largest JROTC programs, with more than 200 students in Sparks, Reed and Spanish Springs high schools, all offering daily battalion activities, drill and rifle teams and Color Guard presentation.
Scott Maryott, director of JROTC programs for WCSD, said northern Nevada schools are accustomed to seeing JROTC students, often clad in uniforms, wandering through the halls or collectively practicing their skills. He said though it can be considered a school club of sorts, it comes with a few misconceptions.
“We’re not just marching all the time,” Maryott said. “That’s really a small, small piece of it. The reason is because people see them, more often than not, marching on school grounds or marching during formal ceremonies.
Also, people think you always wear a uniform. It is not so much about wearing the uniform as it is about the pride of having a uniform. It teaches them attention to detail and encourages them to earn awards to place on their uniform.”
Each high school JROTC program comes with a classroom curriculum designed to teach students proper etiquette and allow space for collaborative planning for community service. Maryott said the JROTC has the potential to turn even the shyest, least outgoing individual into a leader of 20 students or a whole battalion.
“It is a club but it is so much more than that. It is really a family,” Maryott said. “I think the principals appreciate having JROTC on campus. It puts kids in a positive light. Too many times we downgrade this generation, but when you see these kids you can see the productive things and you can be proud of it as a community.”
At Spanish Springs High, Lt. Col. Mike Coger has been head of the Army JROTC program since the school’s inception and has seen many young leaders come through the program. He said some can be leaders upon arrival, but others use the instruction to evolve as a student and as a person.
“We have had a number of kids who came in as freshman and you knew those young people were outstanding leaders,” Coger said. “They came in with skills and motivation. But that is not where you get the most satisfaction. The kids who come in as your standard freshman and we give them an opportunity to get involved in a Color Guard or a drill team are the real stories.
“When you give kids those sort of opportunities to develop their leadership skills at a very young age some of them take off. In two years they are so much more mature than the average high school kid. They have established their goals and manage their priorities well. All the sudden they are off to college on scholarship, and that is the most rewarding part.”
Coger said Spanish Springs has 285 students in the JROTC this year, which is the most in the school’s history. He said the group’s focus will remain on community service projects and will help grow the students’ time management, presentation, public speaking and writing skills through classroom exercises.
“The classroom component of our curriculum combined with the real-world, hands-on experience of our cadets is priceless,” Coger said. “Then when they step out in front of the community you can see how much they have developed those skills for later on in life. I don’t think there is another program in school that gives the kids that sort of in-depth opportunity.”
Maj. William Herrera at Sparks High has seen the JROTC program grow to about 220 students in 2013 continuing a long tradition at the school. Sparks High will host the Cadet Olympics this year, a competition among all schools in the district in dozens of events, and while much of his students’ focus is on winning the event he stressed the important role the JROTC plays in the school.
“One thing about our program is once the kids get into it it keeps them in school,” Herrera said. “For some of them this is one of their favorite classes so we have a place where we can provide a safe environment and somewhere for them to hang out. They have become life long friends.
“We also do teach discipline, responsibility and values. Those are the kinds of things that help them realize that school, the important things they are doing right now, is their job.”
Reed High School is the only Rail City area school using Naval instruction, led by Senior Naval Science Instructor Steve Tynan. He said this year’s group has potential to achieve great things because of the strong student leadership and a motivated 200-student battalion.
“I am looking forward to where this battalion can go this year,” Tynan said. “The class who is in leadership positions are just through the roof in terms of what they can accomplish. We have challenged them to set the bar high this year, even without a specific goal, so when they leave the next group coming up wants to beat it. We want them working on a natural progression to get things better and better every year so the kids have more and more fun and stay active in community.”
Maryott said the graduation rate of JROTC students who participate for four years is 90 percent, and less than 5 percent of all JROTC students join the military. Maryott said the latter statistic may seem surprising, but it follows the goals of WCSD high school JROTC programs.
“I am proud of the fact that when you are with a group you want to graduate together as a group,” Maryott said. “They don’t let one of the kids fall to the wayside. If a kid has a problem then they are out there gathering together to help. They pull each other along.
“It’s (JROTC) really about pride. It gives kids a reason when they are hosting the colors. Pride in their country, their community and in their school.”