The Amazing Cadets of Coventry JROTC Can Really March — So Why Can’t They Get Funded?
The award-winning Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFJROTC) unit at Rhode Island’s Coventry High School may succumb to funding cuts. If students and parents can’t come up with the $250,000 they need by July 30, the Air Force will drop them from the program. But the Air Force is not the villain here — school bureaucracy is the real problem. The cadets of Coventry JROTC just want to march.
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“I wasn’t raised to be competitive, I just naturally have a competitive streak inside of me,” said Katelynn Stalaboin, a cadet at Coventry and the incoming Commander. “I’ve always done individual sports like gymnastics and dance where you don’t compete as much. Drill team was like a team sport, where I can pretty much have a second family, and lean on other cadets, lean on other people, and just get what it feels like to be on a team.”
The cadets do more than march, as a regular school class is part of the program, and the unit organizes other events, such as their own yearly military ball. All of that might change if the group can’t raise the money they need by July 30.
“There are rules in place that kind of mandate what the program’s structure is and how it has to run,” said Kaitlyn’s dad Joseph Stalaboin, who assists in coaching the drill team of the unit. “One of the requirements is that it have 100 students each year, so 100 cadets in the program, and then 1 instructor for every 50 cadets. So those are kind of the minimums. For the last 5 or 6 years, the 801st unit had a real challenge keeping the 100-cadet minimum.”
The Air Force wants to fund schools with more interest than Coventry has proven to have so far, and has told Coventry they can continue as long as they self-fund as a National Defense Cadet Corps program. To do that, they need to come up with the funds before July 30, or the Air Force will pull their existing equipment and uniforms – effectively ending the program and its 41-year history.
“There were a lot of factors that played into that. One, they created a Career and Tech center onto the high school, which drew a lot of kids into other things. That’s great, but unfortunately for the program it kind of took away some students. Prior to that they never had a problem meeting that 100-cadet minimum.”
Coventry has a big influx expected this coming year, according to Jessica Gray, another parent. While the group only had 63 underclass cadets in 2013-14, the incoming freshman class has 80 students who have chosen JROTC. Not all of them will stay in the program, but Gray believes they will end the year with more than 100 cadets — if they have the program.
The Air Force has funded the program at about $60,000 per year, and had been warning Coventry that the school needed to meet the cadet minimum to continue to qualify for funding.
The Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) just named JROTC as “career and tech” programs, which opens them up to a kind of school choice: students from nearby schools can switch to Coventry, and their local district will foot the bill.
Only about 13 to 15 more students would be needed to fully fund the program, Stalaboin said. Several surrounding districts have already closed their JROTC programs due to the same kinds of budget constraints Coventry faces.
That’s fine in theory, but the timing and a lack of cooperation from surrounding administrators have interfered with the plan. Administrators have already set their budgets for the year, and are not willing to let kids attend Coventry if it means losing the money that follows the student. It gives the appearance of administrators looking out for their budgets and not for the students.
“The loss of the JROTC Program to our community will be significant, as the Coventry JROTC Program has worked to educate and train about 100 cadets per year for the past 41 years,” according to Gray. “These cadets work hard and in return are provided with valuable, job transferable instruction in air and space fundamentals.”
“Each year for the past three years we’ve had students accepted at the Air Force Academy,” said Stalaboin.
“But even more important than job skills what they learn, are the values they are taught which shape the very character of these young men and women,” Gray said. “They are taught citizenship, community service, responsibility and self discipline. These are skills that will serve not only their communities but their country for generations to come. We need your help to save this program!”
The group has established a fundraising page at http://gofundme.com/9e8xaw and held local fundraisers, but raising the money has proved difficult.
“The Coventry JROTC was scheduled for deactivation at the end of the 2013/2014 school year,” Gray said. “We received a reprieve but only if we can raise the money to support the program for the next school year. Our deadline is July 30,2014. If the program is not funded by this date, the program will be gone. The equipment will be picked up and it will be years to get it back.”