Spit and polish in Chicago schools
Samantha Acevedo stands at attention while the chief yeoman stares her down and orders her to recite the Navy's 5th General Order from memory.
Dressed in a uniform of black pants and a crisp, white button-down shirt, she answers in a near-whisper: "To quit my post only when properly relieved."
She is no raw Navy recruit being put through basic training, but a 15-year-old freshman at Hyman G. Rickover Naval Academy, one of Chicago's five military-style public schools. About 1,800 students in all are enrolled in the schools.
The nation's third-largest district embraced the concept in 1999 and now has more such academies than any other school system in the nation.
The Chicago district runs the academies and the curriculum is similar to that of regular high schools. But the students are required to enroll in Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps, operated by the Pentagon, and the regimen includes uniform inspections, drills and lessons in military history.
School and military officials tout the academies' emphasis on college preparation, discipline and character-building.
"These are positive learning environments. I love the sense of leadership. I love the sense of discipline," said Arne Duncan, chief executive of the Chicago school system.
At Rickover, named for the admiral considered the father of the nuclear submarine, a student "watch" is posted at the entrance, standing attention when the principal passes. Students wear military-style JROTC uniforms and are called "recruits" until they earn the title "cadet." Each class starts with a roll call in which students answer "On board, sir!"
Students at the academies are not required to serve in the military after they graduate. Army Lt. Col. Rick Mills, who is employed by the district to oversee the military academies, said he has no figures on how many of them enlist.
Some critics complain that the military is deliberately trying to recruit poor blacks and Hispanics by setting up academies in a 435,000-student district that is more than 90 percent minority.
"The expansion of the military academies also comes at the time that there's a war going on. I don't believe that's a coincidence," said Darlene Gamigna, a program director for Truth in Recruitment, part of the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker organization committed to pacifism.
The first public military academy opened in Richmond, Va., in 1980, and now there are 16 schools in such cities as New York, Sarasota, Fla., Kenosha, Wis., and Sandy Hook, N.J.
This fall, Chicago opened the Marine Military Academy, and last week it approved plans for a sixth academy, affiliated with the Air Force, that will open in 2009. That will make Chicago the only district with schools representing all four branches of the military.
About 7,500 students applied for 700 freshman openings this school year at the academies, which have competitive college-style admissions, Duncan said.
Duncan said the academies' attendance rate is 94 percent, versus the district average of 85 percent. But aside from that, success is difficult to gauge.
The district said it does not track how many academy graduates go to college.
At Army-affiliated Carver Military Academy High School, created in 2000 out of one of the lowest-performing schools in Chicago, the graduation rate climbed to 71 percent in 2006, from 55 percent in 2003, district spokesman Michael P. Vaughn said.
Test results have been mixed. About 32 percent of Chicago's public high school students pass state achievement tests. Army-affiliated Chicago Military Academy is slightly higher, at about 34 percent. But Chicago's Phoenix Military Academy, also connected to the Army, is well below average at 14 percent, while Carver is at about 9 percent.
Victoria Amador, who has four daughters who have completed or are enrolled in the academies, said the activities include rock climbing and color guard, "things the average high school student would not have the opportunity to experience."
None of her daughters plans to join the military, and two now attend college.
Acevedo said she wants to join the Navy. Her brothers attended military academies and she watched them learn discipline, something she wants, too.
"They used to come home and have a bad attitude," she said. "But by the third week of school they were 'yes, ma'am' and had respect."
At a glance
A look at the public-school military academies around the country, the military branches with which they are affiliated, and when they opened:
• Florida: Sarasota Military Academy, Sarasota, 2003
Illinois: Chicago Military Academy, Chicago, 1999; George Washington Carver Military Academy, Chicago, 2000; Phoenix Military Academy, Chicago, 2001.
• Maryland: Forestville Military Academy, Forestville, 2005.
• Pennsylvania: Philadelphia Military Academy at Leeds, 2004; Philadelphia Military Academy at Elverson, 2005.
• Virginia: Franklin Military Academy, Richmond, 1980.
• Wisconsin: Kenosha Military Academy, 1998.
• Delaware: Delaware Military Academy, Wilmington, 2003.
• Illinois: Hyman G. Rickover Naval Academy, Chicago, 2005.
• Missouri: Cleveland Junior Naval Academy, St. Louis, 1981.
• New Jersey: Marine Academy of Science and Technology, Sandy Hook, 1981.
• New York: Western New York Maritime Academy, Buffalo, 2004.
• Illinois: Marine Military Academy, Chicago, 2006.
• New York: Bronx Aerospace High School, Bronx, 2002.
• Illinois: Wendall Phillips Academy High School, Chicago, to open in 2009.