Stephanie Moss is an eighth-grade student at Cactus Canyon Junior High School and like a lot of eighth-grade students she became nervous as she looked ahead and thought about navigating high school as a freshman.
The thought of it all — where are my classrooms, how long do I have for lunch, what’s my locker combination — can be stressful for a freshman. But that won’t be the case for Stephanie next year at Apache Junction High School because of her participation this school year in a national NJROTC pilot program.
The program allows eighth graders like Stephanie to join the high school NJROTC — Navy Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps.
“I want to join the Army or Navy when I’m older,” said Stephanie, who has a grandfather who served in the Marine Corps and an aunt who did ROTC. “I was going to do NJROTC in high school but doing it early kind of made it easier on me. I’m familiar with the teachers, the people and the whole environment. I know my way around campus now.”
Lt. Cmdr. Gary Lock, U.S. Navy retired, local NJROTC advisor, said the school is one of only six to eight schools nationwide taking part in the pilot program. The proximity of the two schools — Apache Junction High School and Cactus Canyon are separated by just 1 mile — is an ideal set-up for the program.
“As long as the district wants it to happen and it doesn’t cost them an arm and a leg to ship kids 20 miles, they have the opportunity to do it,” Lt. Cmdr. Lock said.
Six Cactus Canyon students signed up for the program this year, he said, and he’s hopeful more will sign up in 2021-22 if the junior high school and high school are on the same class schedule.
“We have a presence over there (Cactus Canyon) when we do recruiting,” Lt. Cmdr. Lock said. “Kids see the spinning rifles, us doing physical fitness events and seventh graders will ask me, ‘When can we join?’”
Cactus Canyon Principal Chad Cantrell said the pilot program allows eighth-grade students to get a “head start on everything needed academically and being adults.”
“As a school, by allowing students the exposure it allows the program to grow and that encourages others to be part of a program that will benefit them in the long run and help give them the skills to be successful in their life no matter what they choose to do,” Mr. Cantrell added.
The addition of the six students from Cactus Canyon helped Apache Junction’s NJROTC program get off probation. Lt. Cmdr. Lock said NJROTC must have at least 100 students or 10% of enrollment to not be on probation. Apache Junction has 930 students, and 97 students, including 20 from Combs High School, are in NJROTC.
Lt. Cmdr. Lock said that in mid-March eight to 10 NJROTC seniors will fly to Washington, D.C. for a trip that is scheduled to include visits to the White House, the Pentagon, the Navy Yard, Annapolis, several museums and the U.S. Capitol.
One day, Stephanie Moss might be among them.
Editor’s note: Scott Bordow is the director of communications and community engagement for Apache Junction Unified School District.