The Reserve Officers' Training Corps is known for strengthening leadership and team-building skills in students. For Mason Shiflett, a senior at Monticello High School, and a cadet captain for the school's Air Force Junior ROTC, it's done just that. He followed in his older brother's footsteps and joined as a freshman.
"It changed my life, my brother's life... I used to be a little devil child and Colonel has straightened me out a lot," he said.
Lieutenant Colonel Elizabeth Lassiter said Shiflett isn't the only one she's shaped up.
"I've seen young men and women coming into this program in serious trouble, having issues with their schools, their teachers, their home life sometimes, and it's been turned around," she said.
The program is now in its 11th year at the school, and it's the only ROTC program for high school students in Albemarle County. "The next closest one is in Richmond," Lassiter said. Monticello's program could be coming to an end though, because they're not reaching their enrollment quota.
The Air Force funds the Junior ROTC program, and they set a minimum requirement for 100 cadets. That's a number the school has been shy of for years. The Air Force says they won't continue paying for the program if there aren't enough students enrolled.
"If the program comes to the end, that would be heartbreaking for everybody because we've been out in the community for a really long time, we've helped so many people," Shiflett said.
Lassiter agrees. "What it would be to the community would be really essential. We do so many community service events," she said.
Billy Haun is the assistant superintendent for student learning in Albemarle County, and he's the also former principal of Monticello High School. He says the program has been extremely successful, and that no one is at fault for the shortfall.
"The work the Air Force has done has been outstanding, and the work that the people at Monticello have done has been outstanding," he said. "I think the biggest problem with reaching our earmark is just the competition of all the other programs. Our schools in Albemarle County offer so many other programs," he said.
Haun refuses to give up hope that the Junior ROTC program can't continue. "We're not done yet, but we are looking at possible solutions to what we can do to save the program and keep it going because it has been a wonderful program."
The Air Force is facing budget cuts, which is why they are cracking down on the minimum sign up requirements for the Junior ROTC. They are giving the program a second chance though, by allowing the school to recruit more members until next year.
Typically, if a school does not meet the 100 cadet requirement by October 1st, the program has to shut down by June 30th, the end of the school year. Since recruitment is in the winter and registration is in February and March, the Junior ROTC headquarters has given Monticello High School cadets the chance to recruit enough students to reach the 100 cadet mark by March, the end of the registration period.
Lassiter estimates that the Air Force provides nearly $100,000 a year to the school's program for things like uniforms, curriculum, and $60 per cadet for field trips and events. The Air Force also pays for half of the instructor's salaries, and the county matches part of the salary and provides the facility.
The cadets have now stepped up their recruitment efforts by going to middle schools, field day activities, and community events to get more students to sign up.
They have a field day coming up on Friday, November 9th from 11 A.M. to 3:30 P.M., and they've invited the 8th grade classes from middle schools in the area to attend.
Shiflett says he hopes the program will not come to an end, so other students can have the opportunity to learn the skills that he did.
"Our ultimate goal is to build better citizens for America, so we strive to give discipline to everybody and teach them the leadership skills they can use out in the community."
For more information about Monticello High School's Junior ROTC program, click here.
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