A 36 year tradition was cut short last year, after the Coatesville Area School District withdrew it’s funding of the Coatesville Area Senior High School’s Air Force Junior ROTC program, the only AFJROTC in Chester County.
In it’s place the Joint Service Military Club (JSMC) was started.
According to science and biology teacher Denim Kurtzhals, who is currently going on his 19th year serving as an Air Force reservist, there are 43 students signed up. On average 25 to 30 students show up at the afterschool sessions held weekly on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
Cadets run through drill exercises, team building exercises, military history lessons and other informational sessions lead by recruiters from all military branches.
“It’s a great way to use my knowledge and give something back to the community,” Kurtzhals said.
Bob Knecht, senior teacher advisor for the JSMC, said the program opens doors for scholarships and teaches students about different skill sets in the military.
“I think it’s really important especially based on the fact that we lost our JROTC program. One of the best things about it is that the program really provided someone who is interested in going into the military. It provided you with the extra pay grade and also the opportunities to get ROTC scholarships,” he said.
As a senior teacher advisor, Knecht said he provides general supervision, but the military recruiters are a key component in making this program successful.
JSMC Group Staff, which is made up of upperclassman, are responsible for the operation of the club, training and overseeing the cadets. They plan the two-day activities and make sure the cadets are in tune with the programs purpose — to provide training and information to students who might be interested in joining any branch of the military.
Not all who sign up for JSMC or even JROTC are interested in joining the military, Even then, the skills are valuable in settings outside military branches.
According to Paul Draper, JSMC Deputy Commander, the program also teaches cadets’ skills that can be used in professional careers.
“One of the best aspects of the program is leadership opportunity … there is military training leadership aspect of it to but there is the administrative, operational and the people-to-people leadership skills,” Draper said. “You can take these to other places then the military.”
Friends of the PA 771, a nonprofit parent created organization fashioned to help raise funds for the program, were unable to keep the program going. Then an idea sparked to form a club instead of a school-funded program.
According to JSMC parent and area resident Coleen Beckershoff, former Superintendent Richard Como told parents the program would be reinstated for the 2012-13 school year if the group manages to raise $157,000 in two months.
The deadline arrived and the group fell $20,000 until donations came in last minute to help the group meet its goal, Beckershoff said.
Unfortunately the lack of funding for the 2013-14 year, a financially unstable school district the retirement of both AFJROTC instructors of both U.S. Air Force recruiters didn’t play in the program’s favor.
“At the end of the 2012-13 school year both of our instructors resigned. The Air Force, who the school district had a contract with, our school district did not put it in the budget and the Air Force felt that they have a contract with the school district, not with PA 771,” Beckershoff said while the JSMC cadets lined up in the 9/10 Center cafeteria. “With the unstable situation in our district at the time, they did not see fit to uproot instructors, bring them here when they wanted a two year commitment.”
According to Beckershoff, they would have to wait at least five years to reinstate the program because there is a waiting list for other schools across the U.S.
“The Air Force did give us a commitment if we get it back in the budget we don’t have to wait those five years,” she said. “We can try to get it back for next year. If it is in the budget they will commit to bringing the program back.”
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