An air of excitement resounded inside the North Hardin Middle School gym in Radcliff, Kentucky last week as the 113th Army Band finished playing one of their classic military marches. The crowd hushed and the master of ceremonies announced the arrival of the dignitaries, led by General George W. Casey, Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army. They were there to celebrate Project PASS (Partnership for All Students’ Success), a new initiative to extend JROTC to the middle schools in five school systems across the country.
The PASS enterprise is new to education, and certainly a first for two cooperating federal governmental services. With the cooperation of the Kentucky Department of Education the U.S. Army, the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) can now offer an extension of JROTC to middle school students. Through the Junior Leadership Corps (JLC), Project Pass offers elective courses and after-school activities that are designed to develop the character and leadership abilities of secondary school students. For the first time, middle school students have an opportunity to develop and maintain skills in leadership, self-management, teamwork, goal setting, health, problem solving, and wise decision-making.
According to NASBE Executive Director Brenda Welburn, more than 1,200 students across the country are involved in the program. “With a student dropping out of school every 26 seconds and over 1.2 million students quitting school every year, this program will provide every child an opportunity” to develop those skills.
The principal of North Hardin Middle School, Laura McGray, said students need avenues and direction even at the middle school level, and this program provides them. Amy Anderson, an eighth grader at North Hardin, testified before the crowded gymnasium, “I would not have the courage to speak to you today, if it were not for JOC.” She went on to say, “My father is a retired military man and my brother is in the Marines. I know that I will get the skills from this program that will make me successful in life too.”
Austin Davis, a student at James T. Alton Middle School, said that being a member of JOC helped improve his attendance, grades, and attitude. He ended his testimony to a standing ovation when he said, “The future of my country depends on me, so I have to step up to the challenge.”
Secretary Duncan spoke to the crowd’s good will and efforts. He said we must continue this holistic approach to education “for a child’s education does not stop after a six-hour day.” He went on to say, “We all must partner with our communities for education of all children.
General Casey was inspired to create Project PASS while watching all of the ROTC programs parade by him while he was grand marshal for the Chicago St. Patrick’s Day Parade a few years ago. He said he knew that many young men and women did not have the career readiness skills to be in the military, yet he recognized the potential of all of these wonderful young people in the Chicago Public Schools Programs.
Representatives from the other sites selected for this pilot program and were also present, and they include Gwinnett County, Georgia; Miami-Dade County, Florida; Garden City, Kansas; and Christian County, Kentucky.
The event served as a wonderful kickoff to a program that will benefit so many students throughout the U.S. When one engages an active military community like Ft. Knox with a dynamic school system like Hardin County Schools, the outcome can only be incredible for all of those students who choose to get involved!
Durell Butch Hamm
“Butch” Hamm is the 2010 Kentucky Teacher of the Year. He teaches at Larry A. Ryle High School.