The 174 cadets who are members of the Smith-Cotton JROTC program and their instructors embody the meaning of excellence on a daily basis and recently were awarded for their efforts during their formal accreditation inspection Feb. 4.
“Our cadets received a 97 percent rating, which was the highest the school has ever received and we were told it was one of the highest scores received by any program,” Lt. Col. Harry Cunningham said. “This is a tremendous group of kids and I stand in awe of their capacity and actions on a daily basis.
“I could not be more proud of these young men and women and the work they are continually doing,” Cunningham added. “It transports me back to high school and I think to myself that there is no way we could do what these kids are doing now.”
The inspection program the students completed was a first for the S-C JROTC members, as the federal inspectors have changed the process for the inspections.
“We have been preparing for quite a while,” Cunningham said. “We had the specific guidelines in place but whenever you face a new process there are always unknowns.
“Our program is student-driven and led and all of our success is based on the collected work and evidence in their portfolios,” Cunningham added. “The inspectors evaluated all the cadets in battalion formation and asked questions pertaining to their uniforms and United States chain of command.”
Cunningham said once that had concluded, the Armed Color Guard presented the colors and the Armed and Unarmed Drill Teams performed their exhibition and regulation routines.
Following those presentations, the team of inspectors from Chicago, Kansas and Ft. Leonard Wood met with the S-C battalion staff, company commanders and S-C administrators where the inspectors learned about the service-learning project and the continuous learning project the battalion is working on.
The service-learning project the cadets participated in this year was their annual Veteran’s Day breakfast and assembly.
The battalion members have developed a new continuous learning project in conjunction with the district’s goal of raising their ACT test scores.
“We are all working district-wide on this but the battalion has set a personal goal,” Cunningham said. “The members have set a goal of raising their ACT scores to a 24 in the next two years. Currently their average is a 20.35.”
“The students have practice questions each day in their classes and then we take the time to discuss the questions and the answers,” Cunningham said. “The older students work with the younger ones especially on some of the more complex questions that the students have not faced because of their age.”
Cunningham said that having the freshmen students at the high school had greatly enhanced the cohesiveness of the battalion.
“The team work that we have here is really unique to our battalion,” Cunningham said. “I think you would be hard pressed to find anyone who would have as close a relationship as our kids do.
“They respect one another to the point that we can offer constructive criticism with one another that we use it as a means to grow and get better,” Cunningham added. “The freshmen know that they are a valuable part of the team and that the older cadets care about them just as they care about the older cadets.”
Caring about the cadets as individuals who become a team is a primary focus for Cunningham.
“On a daily basis we try to convey to the cadets that we are not teaching a lesson but we are teaching you as an individual,” Cunningham said. “Our focus is to make sure that they become the best individuals and team that they can be.
“One of our inspectors said that in his 16 years of doing his job he could not think of a finer example than the cadets here at Smith-Cotton,” Cunningham added. “He said to me that the work they were doing was beyond all his expectations and that he had never seen anything like it; that is the most gratifying part of the program for me, it’s to watch these young men and women responding at such a high level and continually growing as individuals.”
Superintendent Brad Pollitt commented on a similar aspect of the program.
“We are incredibly proud of all of the members of the JROTC program and the work they continue to do each and every day,” Pollitt said. “The students deserve all the recognition and praise they are receiving for the tremendous amount of time and effort they and their instructors put into the program to make it one of the best in the nation.”
The S-C JROTC Battalion will host their 11th annual Drill Meet Saturday.
Twenty schools from across the Midwest will be competing at the event that is free and open to the public.
Cunningham said there would also be a silent auction including a .243 Ruger caliber rifle and a 10/22 Ruger caliber 22LR rifle donated by Starline Brass.
All proceeds from the silent auction will go to the Smith-Cotton JROTC program. The event begins at 8 a.m. at Smith-Cotton High School.
Hope Lecchi can be reached at 660-826-1000 ext. 1484