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posted: 5/20/2014 5:30 AM

West Aurora to add JROTC

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West Aurora High School students will learn about the military, leadership skills and discipline in an Air Force Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps program starting in the fall.

The school board approved the program Monday night, 5-0.

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About 250 students have expressed interest in joining; 75 sophomores and juniors will be taken the first year, said incoming Superintendent Jeff Craig. In the 2015-16 school year, the school will add freshmen, he said.

The ROTC program is being well-received by local veterans groups, he said, "coming on the heels of a great celebration with the Healing Field and the Moving Wall in our community." West Aurora hosted both patriotic displays in 2013.

West Aurora will join a handful of other west and north suburban schools that have JROTC.

District officials have been exploring the idea of adding a JROTC for several years, but had to find space in the school for the classes, for storage of uniforms and air rifles, and a place to practice drills. It has identified some areas in the school for remodeling for ROTC classrooms, Principal Charles Hiscock said Monday. Drilling will be done in the field house.

West Aurora is one of 10 schools nationwide, out of 225 applicants, to be chosen this year for the Air Force JROTC, Craig said. There are 866 units.

"They didn't just say 'Hey, who wants to do this?'" Craig said.

The school will hire two retired commissioned and noncommissioned Air Force officers to lead the program. The district will pay the difference between the officers' Air Force retirement pay and what they would make as West Aurora teachers.

Besides military history and customs, marksmanship and drilling, they will teach about aerospace science, astronomy and the exploration of space.

In a news release the district released Monday night at the end of the meeting, Craig said "We want to provide an educational environment where all students have an opportunity to reach their full potential. And we believe that the West Aurora JROTC program will promote the growth or development of students who may not be successful in a traditional school setting."

But during the meeting, he stressed that JROTC isn't just for kids who need extra support or haven't found their niche. "This could be our AP kids, could be our top 5 percent," Craig said.

The Navy, Marines and Army also offer the military program. Marmion Academy in Aurora, two Joliet public high schools and Waukegan East High School have Army JROTC. Those with Navy JROTC include East Aurora, Mooseheart, Wheeling and Zion-Benton high schools. Bolingbrook High School has Air Force JROTC, and Romeoville High School has Marines JROTC.

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