Students in the Van Buren JROTC (Junior Reserve Officer’s Training Corps) program are learning more than just drills. They are gaining valuable life skills that will benefit them both as soldiers and civilians.

Under the direction of Lt. Col. (Ret.) Tommie Campbell, the program places strong emphasis on curriculum and teamwork, helping participants gain knowledge that will set them up for success.

Whole child approach

Campbell, who took over the program in August, understands that many have a misconception about JROTC, believing it to be focused solely on harsh discipline and rigorous training.

“We don’t sit and scream at students,” Campbell said. “The JROTC program takes a very holistic approach to educating children.”

With an intense focus on coursework, JROTC weaves in core subject material, integrating it into practical applications for career and life. Graphing, algebra, and geography all come into play with topics such as land navigation and orienteering. Students have numerous opportunities for writing and to practice public speaking as well, making presentations to their peers on leadership and character.

JROTC students also receive physical education and health credits for their classes, where they learn life-saving training in AED and CPR.

As part of the whole child approach, JROTC leaders encourage students to take part in community service activities. In September and October alone, participants logged nearly 3,000 hours assisting with various projects.

“We participated in ‘Paint the Town Pink,’ and worked at Old Timers Day and Junk Fest downtown,” Campbell said.

Students routinely oversee the recycling efforts at school and the Van Buren High School color guard often posts the colors at community events, including football games, parades and chamber of commerce functions.

Core subjects

Campbell, along with fellow instructor First Sgt. (Ret.) Gerald Phillips, again uses such opportunities to tie in core subjects, including math and economics. Students are asked to calculate the tonnage from the recycling and to consider how recycling impacts the regional economy in terms of revenue generated and jobs created.

“It is so rewarding when students have those ‘aha!’ moments,” Campbell said. “It is really neat to see them connect the dots.”

Being rooted in the armed services, JROTC students participate in uniform inspections, color guard presentations and drills each week. Such practices are designed to instill discipline, attention to detail, a strong work ethic, and teamwork. JROTC leaders stress the importance of working collaboratively within what Campbell calls a “genuine cooperative learning environment.”

The structure helps define objectives for students and allows them to develop a sense of responsibility. Cadets within each company have assigned duties that they must perform daily and are supervised by the leaders. The individuals also work as a team, which Campbell believes will benefit them in future college and career settings. “They learn to operate as a coordinated staff.”

Program Impact

Since taking over Van Buren JROTC, Campbell set a goal to expand the program and to help educate others about its potential impact on youth.

“Our students have a 96 percent attendance rate,” Campbell said. “JROTC also has about a 97-98 percent high school graduation rate.”

Another benefit for students who complete the program is the opportunity to enter the military at an advanced rank.

JROTC also opens up a wealth of scholarship opportunities for those hoping to pursue a post-secondary degree. Campbell firmly believes that education is the key to a bright future, and models this in his own life. In addition to his 23 years of active duty service in the military, he holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees, along with ESL (English Second Language) and superintendent’s licenses. He will soon begin work on his doctorate in educational leadership.

“I am a lifelong learner and believe that every educator ought to do everything they can to better his or her self, he said.”

Campbell’s passion for education and for helping students reach their full potential is the driving force behind the work he does every day.

“Parents need to see the vision and what you want for their kid, Campbell said.”

He is working to strengthen aspects of VBHS’s existing program. This includes the addition of new subjects, such as financial literacy. In the spring, JROTC members will also have the chance to participate in SERT (Special Emergency Response Training), which is foundational for fields associated with crisis management and disaster response.

VBHS students have also been actively participating in JROTC contests across the region. At the recent PT (Physical Training) Warrior Challenge in Jonesboro, several Pointers garnered first place honors. Van Buren took home awards for the “Top Female PT Team,” “Top Male PT Team,” “Top Male Athlete,” as well as first place in the co-ed tug of war competition.

The department also is working to build upon its strong ties with the community. Early in the year, JROTC received several in-kind and monetary donations to help provide supplies for students.

“Swaim Office Products gave us 100 of the large binders to hold student portfolios,” Campbell said. “Those run about $10 a piece, so that was a huge help to us. We also have had some parent donors write checks to provide shirts and materials for our students. We really try and make it so that students don’t have to pay a dime to participate, since many often don’t have the funds to do so.”

The program also benefits from a strong booster club, which raises funds to purchase items such as decorations for student uniforms.

Campbell has big plans for the JROTC program and fully expects participation to significantly increase in the coming years.

“We have about 100 students now and I have a goal of doubling that number in the next three years,” Campbell said.

He hopes to utilize the surrounding buildings at VBHS to help accommodate the future growth.

“I envision this all becoming Camp Pointer,” he said.

To learn more about Van Buren High School’s JROTC, follow the program on Twitter, @VBHS_JROTC.