Seventh- and eighth-graders at Robert Smalls Middle School might get the chance to participate in a new military science program next school year.
The school has proposed adding a "military academy" that Principal Denise Smith said would help students build character and make for a smoother transition to Battery Creek High School, which has a large and active JROTC program.
The Robert Smalls program, which would be voluntary, has to be approved by the Beaufort County Board of Education. Smith presented the idea to the school board Tuesday and thinks it probably will be approved.
Participants would be enrolled in a military-science course, which focuses on military history and ideals while instilling leadership and teamwork skills.
Children growing up in poverty need those skills, Smith said. Research indicates those students are less likely to believe they have control over their lives, she said. Robert Smalls has a high percentage of students on free and reduced lunch.
An instructor for the course would be hired. Smith said officials would probably look for someone who had served in the military.
The students' technology course would place a greater emphasis on aerospace engineering. The current teacher of the technology course is slated to attend training this summerto implement the new curriculum.
Smith said the program won't cost the district anything because it would be paid for with U.S. Department of Defense grants the school already receives. The money has previously been used to strengthen the school's math and science courses.
If approved, students from other schools in the district could request to transfer there.
Smith said ultimately, officials hope the program would include about 200 students. That's enough to create one grade-level team in both seventh and eighth grades, so that students in the program could take all of their classes together.
The school had a popular military-science program about 15 years ago, Smith said, and some parents, unaware it's no longer offered, still ask to enroll their children in it.
That program was cut in 2003 because the instructor did not have the credentials required under the No Child Left Behind act, Smith said.
About 240 of Battery Creek High's 760 students are enrolled in the JROTC program, said retired Marine Col. Jack Snider, the district's aeronautical engineering and leadership coordinator.
Retired Lt. Col. Ray Ganas, a senior Marine instructor at Battery Creek, said having students head to high school with a background in military science would allow them to more quickly acclimate to the high school environment.
"It gives them a sense of belonging -- that someone is there to assist them in making their way through the trials and errors of high school," Ganas said.
A program for the middle school also would mean Ganas could accelerate the JROTC program. Students will come to him with military knowledge -- they'll know some Marine Corps history and basic drills.
"The further along they are when they get to me, the further I can take them," Ganas said.
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