JROTC still marching strong

The group tasked with finding a replacement for San Francisco's controversial Junior Reserve Officer’s Training Corps program is close to naming an alternative — more thana year and a half after school board members voted to end the military training curriculum. After passing up on leadership programs offered by police and fire organizations, the JROTC task force will offer new options before the San Francisco Unified School District’s curriculum committee on June 9, district spokeswoman Gentle Blythe said.

It will be the first time the group has provided new information since the board voted in December 2007 to extend JROTC through the end of the 2008-09 school year.

Most recently, the group has explored a program called Teach Peace, but is also considering the expansion of an existing district peer resources program, board chair Mark Sanchez said.

“In my mind, [JROTC] is probably the best youth-development program in the country,” said task force member Doug Bullard, who teaches the program at Lowell High School. “Trying to replace it is a difficult task.”

Students in JROTC classes learn leadership principals as well as life skills such as time management and financial planning. Outside the classroom, they ski, go rafting and compete in drum competitions — activities that allow them to fulfill their physical education graduation requirement, Bullard said.

The board of education voted to end JROTC in November 2006, wanting to sever the district’s ties with the military, which subsidized about half of the program’s $1.6 million cost that year.

Choosing another external program, such as Teach Peace, would likely cost the district more money, Sanchez said. The peer-resource program is funded by district and Prop. H enrichment funding.

Alternatives come at a time when student interest in the program appears to be waning.

More than 1,600 high school students were enrolled in JROTC when the board made its decision. By December 2007, enrollment had declined to 858 — though that number bounced back to more than 1,000 this spring, Bullard said.

Nearly 20 percent of students polled last December said they enrolled in the program because they didn’t want to take gym classes, and 25.8 percent said they dropped out once they had fulfilled that two-year requirement. Less than 25 percent stuck with JROTC for more than one year.

bwinegarner@sfexaminer.com

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