By Rick Dandes
The Daily Item
SUNBURY — More than 100 people supporting the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps at Shikellamy High showed at a school board work session Thursday night fearing the program might be cut to save money.
Those fears, however, were halted quickly: About $114,000 for JROTC has been included in the proposed 2014-2015 budget.
“It was discussed in a prior work session,” said Superintendent Patrick Kelley, whose district is facing a $1.2 million deficit in its $46.1 million spending plan. “We are at a point in our budget discussions where we cannot cut any more personnel from staff, so we did bring up the JROTC budget. But it was just brought up for discussion, that’s all.”
The JROTC program at Shikellamy, with 92 cadets, is the only one in Valley school districts.
A succession of impassioned pleas by students, cadets and former cadets addressed the board, attesting to the value of the program.
Mikki Anselmo, a 2001 Shikellamy graduate, explained how JROTC “changed her life” and helped shape her into the young woman she is.
“This is such an important program for kids,” Anselmo said. “What you have is something that builds character, confidence. It allows kids to learn that they can do things they never thought possible. I would never have gone to college. I’ve heard that the question is a budgetary question. But you can’t put a price tag on this. How can you put a price tag on honor, integrity and respect?”
Another former cadet, Joseph Davis, said he was shy as a high school freshman.
“I wouldn’t talk to people,” he said. “After joining, I opened up to the point where I now speak in public regularly.”
Current cadets made also emotional speeches to the board.
Tiana White was in tears, barely able to speak and slowly explained how JROTC was “her family. And if you were to take away my family, I don’t know what I’d do or where I would turn to.”
Cody Fisher’s mother spoke the words that he had written, but was too emotional to deliver.
“When you look around this room and see the cadets in uniform,” Cody wrote, “everything on that uniform tells a story. The JROTC battalion at Shilellamy is not just an organization, it’s a family. Within that family everybody sticks up for each other and always has each other’s backs no matter what the cause. And this is why we’re here tonight.”
Fisher said that JROTC has taught him to be a leader. He said his dream was to attend West Point, and he is working to be accepted into that military academy.
After about 20 people had their say, Lt. Col. Joseph Walsh, batallion commander, summed up the feelings of the group by first thanking the board for its patience in listening to the speakers.
“I understand that this is a work session and no real decisions will be made tonight. About the JROTC, I think it’s been made clear tonight by all the speakers that we are a family,” he said. “What I try to do is give kids confidence. I teach them values and integrity and help them to become all that they can be. I think that is what this is all about.”