Lincoln High School to retire ROTC program

Decision due to decline in enrollment
By: Cheri March The News Messenger
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The last day of school will be bittersweet for a group of Lincoln High School students. Come this June, the sun will set on the school's six-year-old Air Force Junior ROTC program. I have my little brother coming next year and I can't believe the program won't be here, said junior Jayna Andes, 16, whose older brother helped start the program. This is like, my class. I love the structure and that there aren't as many people in the class. I love everything about it. Though it coincides with recent education budget cuts, the program's demise is due to a steady decline in enrollment over the past few years, said retired Lt. Col. Rich Keys, who has been co-teaching ROTC since its 2002 inception. By (Air Force) law, each ROTC program must maintain at least 100 students, he said. When that number falls back, like ours has, they give us a period to get better. And we've had our time. Part of the decline might be attributed to the current political climate, Keys said. In this day and age, I think there is a general reluctance and hesitance when parents see kids wear the uniform, he said. But despite public perception, the teacher said ROTC is not about recruitment. Even though you see the uniform and the military stuff, the important part is the discipline, respect, goal-setting, and future plans, Keys said. We'll sit down with juniors and seniors and come up with a path where they'll be in five, 10 years from now and what it takes to get there. Andes, the ROTC student, said she doesn't plan to enter the military, but likes that the program shows you all your options. The way I see it, if you are going into the military, it's a start, she said. It's a way to get your life off on the right foot. And when employers see you're in ROTC, they know you'll do a better job. In class, students write resumes, practice job interviews, and learn the things most high school students don't hear about “ financial planning, managing credit, basic responsibilities and personal discipline, Keys said. We're teaching basic life skills, he said. Credits earned in the course count for either physical education or history, which centers on the development of flight. Along with academics, students complete community service, Keys said, including distributing food for the Lions Club at Christmas, performing roadside clean-ups, putting together a team for Relay for Life and participating in city parades. Lincoln High School's Color Guard presents the colors during Sun City's annual Veterans Day ceremonies and, for the past two years, at the Sacramento River Cats Seniors Day. Though the ROTC teachers will adjust to the loss, said Keys' co-teacher, retired Sr. Master Sgt. Nate Goolsbui, students might be another story. At a school with a population this size “ it's hard to get kids involved in extracurricular activities, Goolsbui said. But the (ROTC) kids look forward to being here way before anyone else in the morning, and they're still here when everyone else leaves. This gives them a sense of belonging, of special achievement, Goolsbui said. What will replace this in their lives? There will be a void for quite a while, he said. Senior John Selter, 18, won't be around next year to feel the loss. But after four years in the class, he knows what others will miss. I come in here every day knowing I have the ability to make a difference, Selter said. ROTC teaches you integrity, stuff that employers look for. To be honest, work hard and take responsibility, things that not enough people do. To students, the program is about more than the military. And Goolsbui and Keys aren't just teachers; they're mentors. The students come to us with a lot of things they don't feel comfortable talking about to anyone else, Goolsbui said. There's a lot of coaching with them outside of ROTC. When English teacher Sheila Allen's class reads the Vietnam War novel, Fallen Eagles, Keys speaks with the class about the war, the draft and the aftermath, as well as what it's like to enter the military today “ for men and women. I have the greatest respect for him, Allen said. And I'm not the only teacher who feels that way. For Keys, leading ROTC has been a way to give back to the community. I retired from the military 32 years ago and I only get to wear the uniform when I'm in the class, he said. So I thought I would give this teaching thing a try. And though he respects the enrollment requirements, he would be happier to keep his position. We'd like to stay, he said. I enjoy doing this. It's a tremendous feeling to look into a student's eyes and see that they get it. That's the feedback; that's the return.