When Milpitas High School senior Andrea Alatorre signed up for the Naval Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps, better known as NJROTC, she was quiet and uncertain like many incoming freshmen.
Four years later, the 18-year-old cadet is full of self-confidence, leadership skills, and set to attend De Anza College as a biology major in the fall. “I learned how to use my voice and just communicate better,” Andrea shared. “It actually helped me come out of my shell.”
Junior Mehtab Kang, 16, now in his third year of the NJROTC, was shy and nervous when he first started the elective class at MHS. Kang, who comes from a military family and is a varsity basketball player, plans to parlay the leadership and organizational skills he’s developed into a software and computer science pathway at a Naval Academy.
“I’ve created bonds with people I would never have expected to meet,” said Mehtab. “The biggest thing is my growth as a leader, my organizational and management skills, and team building skills.”
Lieutenant Margie Jackson, who served 34 years in the United States Coast Guard before retiring, is in her fourth year as the Senior Naval Science Instructor for the four-year program at Milpitas HS. This year, she has 67 freshmen to seniors who come five days a week, and earn geography and life management graduation credits.
The NJROTC program is designed to teach high school students the value of citizenship, leadership, service to the community, personal responsibility, and a sense of accomplishment, while instilling in them self-esteem, teamwork, and self discipline.
“The NJROTC core values are honor, courage and commitment. Everything we do in the program relates back to these goals,” Lt. Jackson explained. “It’s really about character development, being committed and honorable, and having integrity and courage in everything you do.”
The Naval Science 1 through 4 course material starts with an introduction to what the Navy is and what its core values are while aiming to improve study habits. Then, it advances to the study of oceanography and weather, along with cultural awareness and history. Each cadet must study from a reference manual and be able to recite a general order when asked.
“If they understand the history of other cultures, then they will have respect for them,” added Lt. Jackson, whose cadets are required to wear their uniforms only once per week. Students can earn up to 23 ribbons for their uniforms, including a community service ribbon that counts for the graduation requirement.
Thursday is drill day where they work on their techniques. Other activities include reading letters sent to the class from military veterans. Lt. Jackson also installed a buddy system where upperclassmen work with incoming freshmen inside and outside of the classroom, serving as a mentor.
Additionally, NJROTC has after-school programs such as twirling rifles with the school’s color guard and participating in competitions against other NJROTC programs. Another high honor for cadets is the raising of the American flag each morning at school.
“I was planning to join the military so I hope to get the skills from this that will be useful for my future,” said freshman Franchesca Santiago. “So far, I’ve learned a lot, especially time management and leadership.”