By Seth Daniel
A combination of citywide school budget cuts and waning participation has forced the closure of one of the Town’s points of pride in the Bunker Hill Day Parade – that being the Charlestown High Air Force JROTC program, which will lead off the contingents of JROTC members for the last time this year onJune 12.
“They have represented Charlestown very well,” said Headmaster William Thomas. “They’ve been good all around. They’ve represented the neighborhood and Charlestown High School well, whether at the Bunker Hill Day Parade or the many other parades in the City. They also do the Celtics games and the represent us throughout the state by going out and participating in competitions, which more often than not they win. This will be their last Bunker Hill Day Parade, though. It’s a shame we had to cut the position.”
The Air Force JROTC program at Charlestown High has been around for many years and came through a call from members of the Town who thought it would be a good idea to sponsor a corps at the high school.
However, another major problem with the program is the waning numbers. The Air Force requires that at least 100 students participate in each chapter, and at CHS, there are 75 this year and there were about the same number last year. With no hope of getting above 100 next year, Thomas said they just decided to cut the program as the Air Force said it would pull the plug without the proper numbers.
“The second reason is the declining numbers,” he said. “The size of our school isn’t as big as it used to be. We used to have more than 1,200 students to choose from and now we have a little less than 1,000. There are also students that aren’t necessarily eligible for the program and that reduces the pool of cadets even further. It’s also a victim of our own success because we can offer a different variety of electives and that also shrinks the pool committed to JROTC. It’s just not as popular as it used to be.”
He explained that with Charlestown High becoming a track for technology in Boston Public Schools through the partnership with Bunker Hill Community College – allowing students to study and, in a perfect world, be able to work towards an associates degree in Information Technology while going to high school – has limited the time students have for JROTC.
That program, known as CTown Tech, has students in 9th and 10th grade double blocked with the essential subjects like math and English, and only allows them to take one elective. Many are not choosing to burn that elective on JROTC, he said.
He said that those in charge of the program, Major Brian Chaisson and Sgt. Paul Perez, still have high hopes that the program could return in time.
“We are seen as a legacy and can easily bring it back when we can establish a viable program in the school,” he said. “There are bigger units all around and there are so may schools looking for a JROTC program, so it doesn’t make sense to keep a struggling program when other schools are chomping at the bit to get one.”
He said the JROTC has not only enlivened the local Parade, but also helped the kids over the years in tremendous ways.
“The program has helped our students with discipline and citiizenship,” he said. “They have pride when they put on that uniform. Many went on to the military and actually were compensated at a higher rate of pay because of the JROTC experience. We have four going to the military this year from the graduating class – three to the Marines and one to the Air Force. They’re going to be wearing their uniform with pride this year when they march in the Parade.”