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School Board Asked to Save Navy Junior ROTC Program

Parents, students plead case for continued funding

The school board on Tuesday heard pleas from several parents, students and concerned citizens to keep the district’s NJROTC program up and running after the U.S. Navy pulls its share of funding in the next school year.

Before a standing-room-only crowd at the Wall Township Board of Education meeting this week, nearly a dozen people — including three NJROTC cadets — addressed board members in the school’s cafeteria, and asked them to fully fund the program once the Navy stops covering half of the bill at the end of this school year.   

The Navy funds half of any NJROTC program with 100 or more members, but since Wall’s enrollment is currently at 63, the program will be short $58,000 to pay its two fulltime instructors for the 2012-13 school year, according to officials. That means either the district will have to make up the difference or be forced to cut the program until the enrollment reaches 100.

After hearing nearly a dozen pleas over the course of an hour from parents, residents and current cadets, board President John Tavis said that although in past years the board was forced to cut clubs with low numbers, the board has since learned that the size of an organization does not necessarily measure its impact on students.

“Even if a club had only three people in it, to those three people it might have been what kept them interested in school,” Tavis said.  “So hopefully we know that it’s not just based on numbers. And the ROTC is much more than just a club.”

One parent, Julie Layden, of Johnson Street, said she has been collecting signatures on a petition to help keep the program alive.

Layden, with a son and daughter in the program, said that in addition to having 1,300 signatures, she also has ideas to recruit more cadets to get the enrollment up. She said she wants to create a cadet outreach program in the intermediate and elementary schools, where current cadets could serve as mentors and “reading buddies” to younger students, hopefully enticing them to join when they get old enough.

“I remember what it was like in ninth grade, and I didn’t want to stand out,” Layden said. “It would help these elementary school kids and these intermediate school kids to see these (cadets) that are standing out for the right reason.”

Paul Huetter, of Walling Avenue, said he has seen his once-shy daughter grow into a confident young woman who learned valuable life skills from the program.

“When she entered high school she was a little awkward. She’s a junior now, and she’s a lot more confident. I really think that the program helped her.”

Another resident, Chris Gramiccioni, of Troy Drive, said he went through the ROTC programs in high school and college, and hoped one day his young children would have the same opportunity one day.

“I have two children that, with any luck with your assistance, are going to be members of the NJROTC classes of ’23 and ’25,” Gramiccioni said.

Having served as an officer in the Navy and currently an assistant county prosecutor, Gramiccioni has seen good leadership qualities first-hand, and as a former cadet himself, credits the program with giving him the tools to get where he is today, he said.  

“It’s not just preparing them with an education, it’s preparing them to be men and women of character and integrity and this is the type of program that grows those traits and principals,” Gramiccioni said.

Emily Luttman, a cadet and junior at the high school, read a statement to the board in which she said her fellow cadets had become family and pleaded to let them stay that way.

“Do not allow us to become lost in the shuffle. Allow us to grow into the future upstanding citizens that you see before you. Allow us to remain together as a family and as an integral part of the high school. Do not leave us behind,” Luttman read from her statement.

The parents, Layden said, would be willing to raise money for the uniforms and trips if the school board would foot the $58,000 bill to pay the program’s two instructors. She would also work to get enrollment up to 100 cadets, she said.

“I promise you that I will not quit until that happens,” Layden said.

Tavis said the board would keep the public updated on the budget process which should become more detailed in December.

"We’ll give you updates and let you know what’s happening and you will not find out at the budget presentation," he said. "We’ll let you know how we’re doing so it won’t be a surprise at the eleventh hour."

tom mahedy December 03, 2011 at 10:16 AM
Balanced journalism will report all views at meetings. This summer Wall NJROTC instructors stole hundreds of dollars worth of stamps and official school supplies to send out an unauthorized, unsigned recruitment letters to 600 children. Bullying, intimidation, harassment actions by the head instructor towards a cadet and parents. All this is covered up. Why is the prosecutor at the meeting silent? Core curriculum teachers in World Language were recently cut. Is this to pay for additional NJROTC costs? There have been huge cuts of programs, teachers, sports. Why preferential treatment here? What are priorities? A proposed new military "leadership" program requires all money to come from Wall taxpayers. I received a NROTC college scholarship from a high school with no JROTC. I no longer believe in the violence that it taught me. The DARE program says resist drugs and violence. Take all guns out of our schools. With all due respect it is time to end the NJROTC program in Wall Schools and stop creating child soldiers. Teach creative nonviolent conflict resolution to children. As a good book says, it is time to turn our swords into plowshares, our spears into pruning hooks, and study war no more. Tom Mahedy Wall
Christopher January 11, 2012 at 10:22 PM
Dear Mr. Mahedy, my name is Christopher O'Connor and I am a Cadet Chief Petty Officer in the N.J.R.O.T.C. program at Wall High School. I would like to comment on the pure ignorance of the comment mentioning "child soldiers." We (the cadets) are not trained in any way about the tactics of war. The young men and women in the program joined because they were patriotic, or they had an interest in the military, and some joined for the great benefits that you can get out of this program. We know the atrocities of war and we know they are not something to laugh at or pretend to do. Many of us have no interest in joining the service. Captain or Senior Chief have never once taught us the ways of taking the life of another human being. If anything, they taught us to value life and all of its greatness. And sir, if I may educate you, N.J.R.O.T.C. is a high school leadership program that teaches discipline, and how to act properly in different situations. IT IS NOT A RECRUITING TOOL. N.R.O.T.C. however, is a recruiting tool because it is for college students who are serious about the service. J.R.O.T.C. and college R.O.T.C. are in many ways, different. Look beyond the uniforms Mr. Mahedy, we aren't the war pigs that you make us out to be.
Stanley Baxter January 12, 2012 at 01:50 PM
Out of the mouth of childern comes the truth. It appears to me that a tenth grade high school student has more intrinsic knowledge than a man who went to college on an ROTC scholarship and has an ax to grind. Mr. Mahedy you are ill informed and you are taking your life dissappointments out on a program and children that have done you no harm. Let me ask you Sir, a question; what are you doing to promote leadership, integrity, honor, self-respect, self-reliance, and love for country within the community and with our youth?, which by the way is the future of our country. You Sir need to kindly take a seat and reamin silent and let REAL leaders get on with teaching and guidiing our youth.

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