DANVILLE — Danville High School students and their parents on Thursday can learn more about a leadership and character-development program designed to help young people become good citizens.
Lt. Col. Warren Griggs of O'Fallon will give an overview of the U.S. Army's Junior ROTC program, including the curriculum and extracurricular activities, and answer questions.
He will speak to freshmen in Dick Van Dyke Auditorium in the morning, and sophomores and juniors in the afternoon. He also will be available to speak to parents in Room 143 from 3:30 to 7:30 p.m. during parent-teacher conferences.
"We're not a military unit," said Griggs, who is retired from the Army and a senior instructor for the JROTC program at Cahokia High School in southern Illinois. "But we try to teach self-discipline and a value system that teaches kids if you say you're going to be someplace or do something, you're going to stand on your word.
"If it's run properly, we are the biggest education multiplier," Griggs continued, adding the program has proven results in raising grade-point averages, ACT scores and graduation rates and lowering discipline problems and drop-out rates among cadets. "We're not English teachers. We're not math teachers. But if we're doing our job, we're going to get kids to care about their English, their math, their history and everything else."
This fall, the Danville school district and the U.S. Army joined forces to establish the program, which will launch at the start of the second semester in January.
Under the partnership, the Army agreed to sponsor the program at the high school and pay for uniforms and other start-up costs, ongoing costs of supplies and equipment, and half of the salaries of the two instructors. The district agreed to cover the other half of the salaries, about $70,000 a year.
"We're hoping to have 40 or 50 students the first year," school administration manager Greg Wagers said, adding officials would like to see that number grow to about 100.
Wagers said guidance counselors have been visiting students during their homeroom period to let them know about the opportunity and gauge interest. As of last Friday, 96 freshmen and 120 sophomores and juniors have expressed interest.
Wagers invited Griggs to the school to provide more in-depth information and answer students' questions before they must decide whether to join and become a cadet.
"Fortunately, we were able to sync it up with parent-teacher conference day," Wagers said. While parents won't get a presentation, he said, Griggs will be on hand to answer any questions they have.
Based on the principles of citizenship in action, leadership, theory and application, the curriculum — which can cover all four years of high school — aims to provide students with a foundation for success in wellness, fitness and first aid; geography, map skills and environmental awareness; citizenship in American history and government; and integrated curricular activities.
"A lot of it is hands-on," Griggs said, adding the program is an elective and cadets are in class for one period each day.
Extracurricular activities — including honor and color guard, drill team, marksmanship and Raider Challenge, in which cadets learn to perform mental and physical activities and can compete with other teams — build upon the curriculum and reinforce self-discipline, leadership, teamwork, character and service to community, among other things.
The instructors, typically a retired Army officer and a retired non-commissioned officer, teach the rigorous curriculum, oversee the extracurricular activities after-school and on weekends and mentor cadets.
"Leadership is about mentoring and pushing kids, or soldiers, to do what they think they can't do," Griggs said.
By law, Griggs said, instructors cannot recruit students into the armed forces. But if a student expresses interest in doing that, he said, they can put them in touch with recruiters and serve as a resource for parents, who aren't familiar with the recruiting process.
"We push college," Griggs said, adding that not all young people will do that. "Some kids will choose to go into the workforce or the military. We help them find their niche."