Before I dive into culture, I do want to focus on the involvement with our local military recruiters. From the beginning, I wanted to have a class where the local recruiters could speak frankly with students who were interested in the military. In our environment, a JROTC program probably wouldn’t have worked well just due to our class schedule. Our local National Guard recruiter jumped at the chance to be a part of the initial advisory committee and has been an integral component of this program ever since. She brings out different teams on a regular basis to help the students learn the different aspects of the military. She honestly shares what military life is like. Students learn very quickly if that path is something they want to pursue.
One of the benefits that we have had is the ability to work with the National Guard in one of their training facilities. We were able to take the class to the training facility for an overnight field trip. The students worked with National Guard fitness experts, medics, and MPs over the course of two days. The students experienced a morning military PT. With appropriate protective gear, the students learned to protect hurt teammates while paintballs were flying all around. They learned to properly clear a building. They got to shoot paintballs at their instructor and their director. They experienced a confidence course that changed their lives. Students who didn’t think they could succeed, found out that they can! The students walked away standing tall and proud, and a little exhausted.
You don’t get to have those kinds of experiences, however, without a culture of respect, safety, and leadership that this class has in spades. From day one, the students learn to trust in themselves and the rest of the classmates. While the instructor handles most of the teaching, he has developed a leadership structure in the class that handles all of the day-to-day classroom management and paperwork details. The students take their own attendance. The students get the classroom prepped for the learning activities. The students, under the supervision of the instructor, handle their own correction when one of their team does not perform. Part of the culture is developed by a uniform. Each class period, the students come in and change into their law enforcement cadet uniform (black polo with a class logo, black tactical pants, black boots, and a duty belt complete with handcuffs and a fake pistol). They perform uniform inspections. And they love it!
The culture is so pervasive that often the instructor says he doesn’t even need to be there. That was true one day when we were supposed to have a substitute teacher. As is my custom, shortly after the morning class started, I went to visit with the substitute teacher. When I walked into the classroom, the students were in uniform, quietly and diligently working on their assignment. That was not the odd part. The odd part was that there was no substitute teacher. The substitute had not shown up, but the students followed their processes and culture and performed admirably.
It is risky to trust students, but if we don’t start trusting them and building them up to earn that trust, where will they learn?