Five years ago, the ROTC program at Southern Regional was on "life support," according to the program's director, Col. Michael Mestemaker.
A combination of state increased academic requirements, which reduced the ability of students to take electives, and the opening of the Barnegat High School dropped Southern's ROTC enrollment to 56 students, landing the program on a probationary status.
This year, however, that number has jumped to 175, and that growth in enrollment, plus all the good work the program has been doing, led to Southern's ROTC program being one of only three in the state to be recognized by the Air Force for distinguished service.
At Southern Regional's Board of Education meeting last night, Mestemaker presented that recognition to the board.
"We have logged over 1,400 hours of community service, and for the second straight year, we were recognized as a distinguished school," Mestemaker said.
Mestemaker credited the Board's support as being a catalyst for the growth in the program. He said the Board's commitment to partner with Barnegat High School led to a jump in enrollment numbers. Barnegat sends about 50 students per year to the Southern program.
"You have worked hard to keep this program alive, and to be recognized with this distinguished unit award is to your credit," said Superintendent Craig Henry.
According to the course description on the district's website, the Air Force Junior ROTC is a five-credit elective course that is designed "to develop responsible, productive and informed citizens who will be future leaders, managers and supervisors."
The course is available to any high school student grades 9 through 12.
Classroom sessions present cadets with opportunities to learn about the history of flight, principles of basic aeronautics, space exploration and world geography. They also learn life skills including public speaking and community service.