When one thinks of the military, or more specially, the U.S. Army, a few stereotypical thoughts come to mind: infantry, war, weaponry, danger. We think about the Army as something we need as a country, but not as a post-high school option or career path for our children.
The Army is working to change that perception. They are doing so by joining forces (no pun intended) with the New Jersey School Boards Association, the only school board association in the country to have an active partnership with the military. And to that end, the team is reaching out to educators, school board members, principals and teachers to re-educate them on who and what is needed in today’s Army.
Recently, I attended an iSTEAM Army Educator Tour at Joint Base McGuire at Fort Dix, with Verona’s superintendent, Dr. Rui Dionisio, and fellow Verona Board of Education member, Michele Bernardino. We were joined by over 50 educators from all over the state to learn how the Army can assist school districts with advancing student achievement through free training and resources. We participated in interactive demonstrations of technology and engineering that are utilized by the Army as well as other branches of the military.
The big picture that the Army is trying to convey is that it is one of the largest employers in the country. Not only does it need everything (communication specialists, marketing people, HR, accountants, attorneys, chefs, medical personnel, computer programmers, coding experts, logistics, and more ) it offers great benefits, tuition assistance, and hands-on training. Being in the Army is not for everybody, but it does want everybody to have a better understanding of what it needs, and what it offers in return.
The Army division of the U.S. military is just over 500,000 strong. There has, however, been a dip in recruiting, particularly in the northeast and more specifically, Essex County. According to a military news website, the struggles that recruiters face here range from a strong economy with plenty of other job opportunities to the difficulty, for some, to pass the military entrance exam: Only 30 percent of students taking the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) actually pass it. (The ASVAB doubles as an alternative assessment that meets the New Jersey Department of Education’s high school graduation requirements.)
The importance of doing well in high school stretches beyond trying to get into college. Taking the most rigorous coursework will better prepare students no matter what their post high school plans may be. It is of particular importance to do well in mathematics and sciences because technology is infused into every industry. The obvious engineering, chemistry, physics routes are a given, but the Army Educator Tour exposed us to areas of hands-on training through virtual reality simulations, defense technology, and medical training scenarios.
We were given the opportunity to use the simulators to learn how to load military cargo planes, shoot aircraft with hand-held, heat-seeking missiles, and battlefield medical response situations, with lifelike casualty dummies (that bleed, sweat, talk, groan, breath). All of these areas of expertise and training equipment depend upon data analyzers, programmers, graphic designers, engineers, and mathematicians working behind the scenes to develop technology.
By inviting educators to its training facilities, and giving us information to bring back to our school districts, the Army is building genuine relationships. It offers many free programs for educators to take advantage of as outlined in the Army Educational Outreach Program. There is scholarship money available (some include civilian opportunities) from the Department of Defense, as well as career development programs through high school and college internships. Shelley Herman, a 2014 graduate of Verona High School, was awarded a DOD scholarship last year that will pay two years of her tuition at Boston University and give her a stipend that covers her room, board and some of the college debt she had already incurred. Finally, there are summer programs spanning from elementary through high school-aged students.
Verona is dedicated to exposing our students to as many experiences, opportunities and educational pathways as possible. While most VHS graduates move on to traditional colleges, I believe it is our duty to inform and educate students and families about all pathways. Even if the military is something you do not choose, make that an informed decision, not one based on speculation, outdated stereotypes or misinformation.
Lisa Freschi was recently re-elected to a second term on the Verona Board of Education.