Military Public School's First Class Marches Off to Careers, College
Richmond--As an 8th grader, Roy Reed had become so bored with school that by the end of the school year, his records showed 57 days of unexcused absences. "I was at the point," he recalled recently, "where I was just tired of school. My life was at a standstill."
"I would wake up in the morning, and I'd think, 'Oh boy, I've got to go and see seven teachers again today."' The only thing that kept him going to school those days, he says, was his interest in the football team, of which he was captain.
But all that is now part of the young man's past. During the summer of 1980, he was one of 125 9th graders recruited by public-school officials here for an experimental program, established in conjunction with the U.S. Army's Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps program, to prepare high-school students for careers in the military.
In August of that year, the Richmond Public Schools began operating what officials here say is the nation's first all-military public high school. The Franklin Military School opened in a vacant elementary school with a staff of six and a principal, William F. Cumbo Jr., a Virginia educator who had served eight years in the Navy.
This year, the first group of cadets to enroll at the Franklin Military School will graduate, and Roy Reed, who says that four years ago he considered dropping out of school, expects to be among the graduates.
Although private military academies routinely associate themselves with one of the branches of the armed services, before Franklin no public-school system had been able to garner enough community support for an all-military public school. Three years after the Franklin school opened, however, St. Louis followed suit with a naval program, making it the second school system to establish a publicly supported military school.
Citing a political climate that has grown more favorable toward military training in recent years, Defense Department officials contend that the number of high-school students enrolled in junior rotc has increased since 1973 and that more schools apply each year for funding than the Pentagon's budget can accommodate.
This year, the junior program was scheduled to expand by about 40 percent to 1,778 schools nationwide at a cost of about $52 million, according to a Defense Department spokesman. Next year, he said, the program's operating budget is expected to exceed $53 million.
$40,800 in Support
As one of 834 junior rotc units maintained by the Army, the Franklin school received about $40,800 this year in support from the Defense Department to help pay for the three military instructors' salaries, clothing allowances for students, and instructional materials. Overall, the school's current operating budget is about $432,000.
Mr. Cumbo, who as principal has the titular rank of "colonel," points out Roy Reed's case as a good example of the benefits students derive from the training offered in a military school. "Roy would not have survived in another school," suggests the principal, who encourages all his students to join the service or enroll in college upon graduation.
"I was always fascinated by the military," says Roy, who is 20 years old. "That's why I jumped at the chance" to attend the Franklin school. As a result of his experience there, he says, he has set goals and has discovered that "I'm capable of things I didn't know I could do."
In December, Roy enlisted in the service under the Army's delayed enlistment program, which allows students to sign up for reserve duty until after they have graduated from high school. After graduation, they are placed on active duty and assigned to a military installation for basic training.
On Aug. 15, Roy is scheduled to enter "jump school" at Fort Benning, Ga., where he will be trained for infantry duty and, he hopes, for the Army's elite Ranger corps.
"Now that I've gotten a taste" of what a military career would be like, he says, "I'm sure I can handle it."
The Richmond school system, which has an enrollment of about 30,000 students, has always had three "very active" junior rotc programs in its three high-school complexes, according to James Tyler, assistant superintendent for business services. But in 1976, un-der the administration of Superintendent Richard C. Hunter, school officials began considering the possiblity of an all-military school.
Because of the opposition of several religious and peace groups, school officials had to apply twice to the Army for a junior rotc unit at the Franklin school. After the second request, the Army agreed to provide funds for the program.
"It's a program to develop leadership and it offers some students an opportunity to turn their lives around," explains Mr. Hunter. "They like the uniforms, the immediate rewards from doing well, like advancing in rank, and the chance to show they are mature and can do good things."
"It wasn't trying to feed the military and teach the students militarism," Mr. Hunter says, referring to initial opposition to the school. "I think some people thought that the military was pushing this."
More Worthwhile Approach
"We had observed students involved in various junior rotc programs in our regular schools, and ... the response of the young people, in terms of what it did for them, suggested to us ... that it would be an approach worth more than the part-time programs we were operating in the schools," he adds.
"We're certainly pleased with the progress that has been made," Mr. Hunter says. Since the schoolel5lopened, he says, he has seen "tremendous" growth in the young people at the school.
Today, the Franklin school has an enrollment of about 218 students in grades 9 through 12. Nearly all of the students are black, and most come from economically disadvantaged families. About 43 percent of the students are young women.
"This is a special education in an alternative setting in which students go to school every day in a uniform," says A.L. Castro, the district's director of public relations. The students are given a regular curriculum, except, he adds, for the fact that they must take "military science" courses and participate in "drill practices" twice a week.
In the classroom, the students are required to raise their hands and ask permission to speak. Before entering a room, they must first ask permission, and unless their parents have given approval, they cannot leave the school campus.
All of the school's staff members, including those civilians who teach regular academic subjects, have the military ranking of at least "captain," which is used during school hours when the adults are addressed by the students.
"The discipline is tougher at Franklin than at all the other schools," Mr. Castro says, and the cadets want it that way.
One of the school's major drawbacks, according to Mr. Cumbo, is its facilities. Because Franklin lacks much of the equipment commonly found in other high schools, its students are bused to nearby high schools for foreign-language instruction, vocational training, and science courses that require laboratory work.
That arrangement, Mr. Cumbo says, will continue even though the school will relocate later this year in another vacant building owned by the school system. "Maybe I'm a little jealous," he says. "I would like to have the students take everything right here in the school. I hate losing these kids in the afternoons. I'm always afraid they will give up their bearings" because the kind of discipline provided at Franklin is "not reinforced" at the other schools in the district, he explains.
Despite the stern discipline and academic-program limitations, all of the students, according to Mr. Cumbo, have voluntarily elected to enroll in the school.
"Their basic interest in the military was what drew them here," he says, adding that the influence of the school's military instructors has lessened over the years. "They're here because they want this kind of discipline."
Mr. Cumbo acknowledges that not all of the students who enrolled at the school have been comfortable with its brand of discipline and its limited school activities. But those who do stay, he says, find it hard to leave.
Of the 125 students who enrolled in the first class, fewer than half stayed all four years. Of the 61 seniors, Mr. Cumbo estimates, only about 50 will actually graduate in June.
"An amazing phenomenon has surfaced," Mr. Cumbo asserts. "I'm seeing kids who maybe don't want to graduate, and I don't know the reason for it. It's something completely new to me," he says.
Mr. Cumbo says that in Franklin's early days there were "misguided" perceptions among some in the4school district and in the community that "we'd be teaching warmongers" and that the school would be a place for students from throughout the district with discipline problems. But he adds: "We sought to eliminate those perceptions quickly."
Its students say that the Franklin school provides a common meeting ground for their career interests and offers a "family atmosphere."
Alicia Goode, an 18-year-old sophomore who says she loves "wearing a uniform" and plans to become a nurse, likes the school because "everyone has the same concern--military."
"It isn't the same as the other schools," Alicia maintains. "You don't see people in the bathrooms here smoking and shooting craps.
"Everyone here," she adds, "tries to bring out the name of the school."