Gettysburg High School Principal Jeremy Lusk introduced the school’s U.S. Army Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) Instructor Lt. Col. (Ret) Mike Athanasakis to the school board on Monday evening.
Describing the ROTC program, Lusk praised its benefits for students. “I saw civics; I saw history; I saw service; I saw teamwork; I saw training for competition. That’s truly just the beginning,” said Lusk. “All kids want to be part of something. Some kids say ‘For me, it’s this program.’”
Speaking about Athanasakis’ hire, Lusk said “We found a great leader. He had ‘it’. He wanted to settle in a community and have impact on kids.”
Athanasakis, often called “Col. Mike,” recently relocated from the Bridgeport CT area after an Army and Army Reserves career.
Athanasakis showed two videos about the program and explained how it was being implement at GASD. The program involves a regular instructional block as well as after school programs that operate similarly to sports teams.
“It’s not a bootcamp or a scared straight program,” Athanasakis said. “It’s not meant to be a pipeline for students in the military but it works to find the good in students.”
Athanasakis said the program was very much involved in the school. “Students want to hear our stories,” he said.
Athanasakis said the program was the only one in Adams County. The program is required by U.S. law but there are only 1,700 programs nationwide.
Athanasakis said the district needed 100 students to keep its accreditation and that the program would go on probation if it had less than 95. “We can make our numbers,” he said, but also proposed allowing students from other districts to join as part of a “magnet” program.
Athanasakis said the program was “well-represented across demographics” and that girls made up about 30 percent of the enrollment.
A 2022 JROTC trip to the Normandy beaches in northern France is being planned using a GoFundMe campaign.
According to its website, JROTC is one of the largest character development and citizenship programs for youth in the world. The program is mandated by Title 10 United States Code, Section 2031, and each military service must have a JROTC program to “instill in students in United States secondary educational institutions the values of citizenship, service to the United States, and personal responsibility and a sense of accomplishment.”
Saying “it’s good for the community,” board member Carrie Soliday thanked Athanasakis. “What an opportunity to get this out to other districts,” said board president Kenneth Hassinger.
The next regularly-scheduled meeting of the school board will be March 15, 2021 at 7:00 p.m.