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Central York's new JROTC program training future leaders

Alyssa Pressler
  • The high school is in its first year of the Air Force junior ROTC program.
  • There were 87 students who participated in JROTC during the first semester it was offered.
  • The goal of the program is to create leaders among students.

Central York High School joined other schools in the area this year by adding a new  junior ROTC program for students.

Principal Ryan Caufman said the decision to include a JROTC program has been in the works for a few years. In 2009, the school applied for an Army JROTC program, but the Army has since stopped funding such programs.

Shortly after, school board Vice President Gregory Lewis, who retired from the U.S. Air Force, suggested the school apply for an Air Force JROTC program. In the spring of 2015, the district applied and was approved on the condition it pay half of the salaries for the teachers. Caufman said the board was very supportive.

A total of 87 students participated in the program's inaugural semester, and more than 100 are participating this semester, Caufman said.

A Pennsylvania Army National Guard member himself, Caufman said he has enjoyed seeing the program bring out leadership among students.

"Learners that might not typically be involved in anything connect with the program," he said. "It becomes a family of learners."

Central York High School JROTC Cadet 2st Lt. Shaeleigh Strange crosses the single rope bridge as the Raiders team practices their rope skills, Thursday, January 19, 2017. John A. Pavoncello photo

Class: The  junior ROTC program is set up as a class students can sign up for. Each day for one period, students gather to do things such as recite the Airman's Creed, learn about aerospace engineering and talk about the history of the Air Force.

There are four levels to the program. The first level, which everyone starts out in, serves as an introduction to the program. As they move up, students go more in depth in the topics they discuss, and the cadets' responsibilities grow.

Students can take classes at all four levels in succession, or if there isn't room in their schedule, they can take a semester or even a year off.

During that time off, the cadets can still participate in the other activities offered through the JROTC program by going into "reserve status." Some of those activities include the drill team or Raider team, which is a team that competes in various physical tests, such as setting up a rope across a "river" and climbing across. These activities take place after school.

Competing in the Raider team is Quinn Bacha's favorite part of the program. Quinn is a 16-year-old junior at Central York High School from Manchester Township. He joined JROTC because he knows he would like to go into the Army after his high school graduation.

"It gives you a sense of urgency," Quinn said of JROTC. "It keeps you in line."

Mix of students: Morgan Eve, a 17-year-old junior from Springettsbury Township, joined for the same reason, though she isn't sure yet which branch of the military she will join. So far, her favorite part of being involved in JROTC is working in drill, where cadets learn the different marching routines and can compete against other JROTC programs.

"You work on teamwork, and you get to know people," Morgan said.

Students in ninth through 12th grade are eligible to participate in the JROTC program. Chief Master Sgt. Fred Sandacz, the program's instructor, said the goal is to have older students take leadership positions. As the program continues to grow, this will become more prominent, but because it's still in its infancy, there are students of all levels leading other cadets.

With 1,836 students in the school, Sandacz said he often sees students interacting who have never met before, as Morgan pointed out.

Even if students in the program aren't planning to join the military, the program still offers valuable life lessons, Sandacz said. Students learn to work as one, can take leadership roles they might not find in other classroom settings and can try something new.

The program can't recruit students to the Air Force, or any branch of the military, though Sandacz said a number of graduates do go on to join the military or participate in ROTC programs in college. For those students, JROTC allows them a place to learn and make mistakes before it becomes less acceptable at higher levels.

"In military there is no failure, but JROTC is a learning process," Sandacz said.

All students learn valuable lessons in leadership and teamwork, Sandacz said. Even those who do not plan to enlist can apply these lessons in the job market or in college courses.

Sandacz is looking forward to seeing more students get involved and seeing older students pass on information and tips to younger students. He's also looking forward to  expanding the activities the cadets can participate in.

"We want to mentor them," Sandacz said. "We want to try to build those one-on-one relationships."