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Norwin Air Force JROTC program to be one of few in area

| Wednesday, April 9, 2014, 9:01 p.m.

A new Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps program is set to take flight when students return to Norwin High School in the fall, according to district officials.

The program, which is open to students in all four grades, will be one of only a handful of its kind in southwestern Pennsylvania, said retired Air Force Maj. Scott Kolar, who runs the program at Plum High School and has been developing the unit at Norwin.

Other such JROTC programs in the region are at high schools in the North Allegheny, Pine-Richland, West Mifflin Area and Ligonier Valley school districts.

“I think the interest level for the program at Norwin is going to be huge,” said Kolar, who noted that the Air Force gives JROTC programs three years to become “viable,” which means having an enrollment of at least 100 students.

“I don't think that's going to be a problem,” Kolar said. “So far, we've signed up about 70 students.”

Norwin High School Principal Timothy Kotch said one of the appealing aspects of the JROTC program is that it brings together students who might not have much interaction at school.

“I think it is a huge benefit for us,” Kotch said. “We have a place of belonging for our athletes, for our musicians. This gives students an opportunity to belong. It motivates kids intrinsically and teaches leadership and community service.”

The Air Force will cover a significant portion of the cost of the program, including the cost of uniforms, materials and most student activities, Kolar said.

The Air Force also will pay a portion of the cost of hiring two retired Air Force officers who are state-certified teachers to serve as instructors for credit courses in aerospace science and leadership education.

The aerospace-science program includes instruction in aviation history, the science of flight, astronomy and space exploration, and cultural studies and global awareness. The leadership course covers topics such as citizenship, character and Air Force tradition; communication, awareness and leadership; life skills and career opportunities; and principles of management.

Junior Brannon Sever, 17, o f North Huntingdon is among the students who have signed up for the program.

“I'm planning to join the Air Force Reserves after graduation, which is something I've wanted to do since I was little,” said Sever, noting that her father and grandfather served in the Air Force. “So it's pretty cool that this program is coming to Norwin.”

While Sever has her sights set on the Air Force, Kolar stressed that unlike college-level ROTC programs, which are structured to lead to military service, JROTC is “absolutely not” a recruiting program.

“There are certainly advantages for those who are interested in military service, but there is no military obligation for those who participate in JROTC,” he said.

JROTC students who enlist in the military receive a bump of two pay grades if they enter the Air Force, Navy or Army or and one pay grade for the Marine Corps, Kolar said.

“Besides the financial rewards, students who were in JROTC are rarely surprised at what they are getting into,” he said. “So it can really do a lot to increase their chances for success.”

While students in JROTC participate in activities such as weekly drill sessions, physical-fitness training and community-services projects, the program is heavily weighted toward academics and “team-building” activities, the major said.

“Junior ROTC students often talk about having a sense of belonging and accomplishment, which is visible in the way they handle themselves — especially when they interact with adults,” Kolar said.

Tony LaRussa is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-856-7400, ext. 8626, or at tlarussa@tribweb.com

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