Huntington North may get JROTC program added by next school year

Members of the Warsaw Community High School Junior ROTC color guard enter the boardroom during the start of the Huntington County Community School Corporation’s meeting Monday, Sept. 24. Pictured (front to back) are Cadet Maj. Meraley Fugate, Cadet Command Sgt. Zachary Arnett, Cadet Lt. Col. Emily Puckett and Cadet II Lt. Cameron Charles. The cadets spoke with board members, who are considering enacting a JROTC program at Huntington North High School.
Members of the Warsaw Community High School Junior ROTC color guard enter the boardroom during the start of the Huntington County Community School Corporation’s meeting Monday, Sept. 24. Pictured (front to back) are Cadet Maj. Meraley Fugate, Cadet Command Sgt. Zachary Arnett, Cadet Lt. Col. Emily Puckett and Cadet II Lt. Cameron Charles. The cadets spoke with board members, who are considering enacting a JROTC program at Huntington North High School. Photo by Rebecca Sandlin.

If everything goes right, Huntington North High School could see a junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program added to its curriculum as soon as next school year. Members of the Huntington County Community School Corporation Board of School Trustees not only heard about the program, they saw it in action during their regular meeting Monday, Sept. 24.

The meeting opened with the Pledge of Allegiance fronted by the Warsaw Tiger Battalion, a color guard from the Junior ROTC of Warsaw Community High School. Following the ceremony, four cadets talked to board members about what they have gained by being a part of the JROTC program. Cadet Lt. Col. Emily Puckett said the program is a good fit for many types of high school students, from top athletes and scholars to those struggling to find their stride.

“It’s really for all types of students because they all become friends through that,” said Puckett. “It also gives those lower-class students kind of a place in the school. If you join a sports team, you kind of have some motivation to do good in school. Junior ROTC is the same type of thing, and it also prepares them for real life.”

Each of the cadets shared why they personally joined the Warsaw JROTC program, most of them saying it made them a better person.

“I mostly just joined because I knew that it would give me a lot of leadership experience,” said Cadet Maj. Meraley Fugate. “It definitely has, and has been a great experience.”

In JROTC the Warsaw students participate in drill team, color guard, rifle team and “Raiders” – a team that performs fitness challenges in a competitive setting. They also participate in field days at local elementary schools, have a formal military ball and work with Boomerang Backpacks, a program that sends home food in backpacks to elementary school children.

Board members also watched a video about Marion High School’s JROTC program and heard from HNHS Principal Russ Degitz and Chief Warrant Officer Bobby Blair about the possibility of having its own JROTC program, either in the 2019-20 school year or 2020-21.

Degitz said he visited Blackford High School last year to talk about their JROTC program. Concordia Lutheran High School in Fort Wayne also has a JROTC program.

“There’s a lot of success and a lot of tradition here for JROTC in this portion of the state,” Degitz told the board, adding that such a program serves and points all students in the right direction, from at-risk to West Point-bound and all points in between.

Degitz also said the JROTC program is approved by the Indiana Department of Education as a curriculum that can offer a wide variety of college credits and help students complete their core requirements for graduation.

Blair further offered statistics showing improvement in each area of attendance, graduation, indiscipline, dropout and grade point averages among high school student populations in which JROTC is offered.

“As you would know anywhere working within a team, that esprit de corps – that ‘family’ building the cadets had worked on or talked about earlier, continues to build throughout their high school, and the numbers show it,” he said.

Blair added that the majority of the program is funded by the U.S. Army. Included in that funding is the curriculum, uniforms and instructors’ salaries.

To begin a JROTC program, the school corporation must make an application and have a site visit by the U.S. Army. Space must be allotted for a classroom and drill practice, there must be two instructors and a minimum of 100 students signed up for the program.

Blair said he would initiate the application and take it to Indianapolis in the step-by-step process to create the JROTC program at Huntington North. Degitz will bring a formal request to the board for action at its next meeting on Oct. 8.

In other business:

• The board held a public hearing on the 2019 budget; however, no one came forward to speak.

• The board unanimously approved a request from French teacher Neysa Leichty to allow fund-raising by students for a trip to France in 2019. The five-week trip would include a visit to Paris, staying in a youth hostel, attending a French high school for a week and staying in host homes while learning French culture and working on their language skills.

• The board also accepted a donation from Takane Belote, who left $113,239.75 in his will to Huntington North High School.

Superintendent Randy Harris noted that Belote was a Huntington North graduate who had lived in California.

“I don’t know if Huntington, anywhere in the district, has had a donation of this size,” he said.

The bequest to the high school has no restrictions and can be used as administrators see fit, Harris added.

• The board unanimously approved two resolutions, one establishing education and operations funds and one allowing the transfer of amounts up to 17 percent from the Education Fund to the Operations Fund. The resolutions bring the corporation in line with state mandates of accounts. HCCSC now has four funds, the Education Fund, Operations Fund, Rainy Day Fund and Debt Service Fund.

• The board also noted that the corporation’s Average Daily Membership of students counted on Sept. 14 is 5,006.