Penn Hills JROTC cadets to continue military studies at Plum High School
Cameron Bartges will enter his junior year at Penn Hills High School this year, and starting his third year of Junior ROTC at Plum High School.
The latter is due to a new agreement between the districts so current Penn Hills cadets can continue their military studies.
“It will mean a lot because I’m looking into the Navy,” Cameron said. “It will be easier for a lot of people that do plan on going into the military.”
Penn Hills’ Navy Junior ROTC program has been eliminated due to a lack of cadets and money.
The Plum opportunity is only good for one year and not available to new recruits.
“The district is no position to make a long-range commitment,” Penn Hills Superintendent Nancy Hines said. “At some point, they’re going to be phased out.”
The district had two options in May to keep the program alive: add 70 cadets to reach the 100-cadet requirement for federal funding, or at least have 50 total cadets and pay for the program.
Neither were accomplished by the end of the June deadline, when the board adopted its financial recovery plan and 2019-20 budget.
Penn Hills school board members unanimously voted at a special meeting Monday to authorize student participation in Plum’s program.
“We have to support the kids to do this,” Penn Hills school board President Erin Vecchio said. “They started it. It’s a good program. This helps them fulfill their requirements to get in (to the service as officers). It’s unfortunate that we couldn’t get enough kids to have it funded so it wouldn’t cost anything. We’ll have to look at it again next year.”
Penn Hills will pay Plum nearly $1,300 in tuition per cadet. Student families will be required to provide transportation.
Plum’s JROTC class is the last period of the school day, and cadets from both districts can participate in JROTC extracurricular activities.
Plum has an Air Force Junior ROTC program run by Col. Richard Peterson and Master Sgt. Kevin Butler, both retired.
They instructed 110 cadets last school year. It’s unclear how many cadets will be involved in 2019-20.
About 14 cadets are expected to come from Penn Hills.
Peterson said they will be welcomed with open arms.
“Even though it’s Navy and we’re Air Force, the cadets are cadets. They understand what we’re about,” he said. “I think everybody’s supportive. We’ll do anything we can, and our administration’s really flexible.”
Plum School District officials are expected to ratify the agreement in August. There are no board meetings scheduled for July.
“I think there will be a bit of a shock at first, getting to know the cadets there,” Cameron said. “We did have five of them come in and talk to us about some of the stuff the Air Force program has that the Navy program could not do. We’ll get used to the changes in the drill and curriculum. Other than that, it will be a very smooth transition.”
Penn Hills cadet William Philip is credited with coming up with the Plum idea. Others, such as incoming senior Alexia Zappi, Penn Hills’ cadet commander, continued to meet with district officials to make the arrangement possible.
“The opportunity is a good one, and none of it would have been even possible without the hardworking cadets that came to the board meeting with me,” Alexia told the Tribune-Review via email. “It’s very important for young men and women to express their voice. I am glad that this has helped them find their voice that could help their community and other students who love ROTC.”
Hines said the students showed dynamic leadership skills.
“They have been absolutely persistent,” Hines said. “I’m excited for them. I think they’re great kids. They do a lot of community service.”
Michael DiVittorio is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Michael at 412-871-2367, [email protected] or via Twitter .