(James Carbone/Los Angeles Times)
Crescenta Valley High School

How the pandemic affected the AFJROTC program at Crescenta Valley High School

In Crescenta Valley High School’s AFJROTC program, students can learn leadership, public speaking skills, management skills, discipline, teamwork and aerospace science for four years.

All cadets from four different flights of AFJROTC, regardless of position and grade level, work and interact together as one corp to accomplish missions of ROTC, such as being effective leaders in our community and active participants of community services.

“Many people misunderstand JROTC as a military recruiting program. It (JROTC) is actually a citizenship and leadership program trying to make students better citizens for tomorrow,” Alvin Johnson, the master sergeant of CVHS’ Air Force Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program said.

The unique aspect of JROTC that separates the program from other electives or physical education courses is that it is a student-run program.

“Sergeant Johnson and I certainly teach materials during the class but if somebody who is an officer, maybe a physical training officer, have a plan envisioned for the cadets, it is really their call and we just sit back and facilitate how it is going to work,” Leland Waters, coach of the AFJROTC at CVHS said.

Students, especially upperclassmen who have more experience in the program, get to have officer positions, such as corp commander, drill and ceremony officer, flight commander, or physical training officer, which allows them to closely experience what it is like to lead a group.

Having such positions give a sense of responsibility and inspire students to fully leverage their strength for the vigor of the corp. During the challenging process of being an officer, students encounter new situations, get into conflicts and make mistakes while dealing with those circumstances, which eventually functions as stepping stones that gradually transform them into better leaders.

Although JROTC provides a plethora of different opportunities that promote the leadership of students, the pandemic has unfortunately deterred some crucial events of the program.

Before the pandemic, AFJROTC had color guards representing football games, drill and ceremony team going on competitions, the annual rocket shoots where the corp built rockets in the classroom and went on a field trip to launch the rockets, physical training on the school campus, military ball, uniform inspections, flight simulations, corp outings and more.

“On Fridays, we frequently exercised on the fields, raced up to the platform, did pushups, and engaged in various team building games that the whole school knew that Friday is team building day or PT day,” Johnson said.

The pandemic limited even the most simple thing for Johnson and Coach Waters, which was greeting students in the morning as they came into the classroom.

However, the most dramatic shift that occurred in AFJROTC was that there are now homework and assignments for students. Going to distance learning, most in-class activities such as physical training and aerospace science lessons, have been changed to independent work.

Now, students do physical training on their end and log it into the PT log, watch weekly Edpuzzle videos that teach vital components of leadership and read aerospace science lessons on online textbooks to acquire new concepts that are much harder to learn without in-person flight simulations and lectures.

As the amount of homework and independent assignments increased, students are pushed to be more responsible and accountable for their own actions.

“Cadets do most things on their own now. Before, you were accountable for your fellow cadets when doing push-ups; you did push-ups as long as cadets around you did push-ups as well. Now, no one is around to see if you are really doing what you are supposed to do,” Coach Waters said.

After moving on to online learning, integrity is the most necessary principle. Yes, no one knows whether students are doing jumping jacks and pushups if Zoom cameras are turned off. And yes, an innumerable amount of students are tempted to lie that their internet connection is unstable and turn their cameras off.

In a situation where no one can confidently determine what is going on in the other end of someone’s screen, it is especially hard for Johnson and Waters to tell if they are talking to themselves or being heard by their students.

Amid the unfaltering pandemic that forced highly social and interactive programs like JROTC to become a class predominated by independent work, the chances for going back on campus seem uncertain. If the distance learning continues, MSgt Johnson and Coach Waters will continue to use weekly check-in videos from students to adjudicate what worked well and what did not.

Furthermore, an important component of the JROTC program, uniform inspection, would find its way to be part of the online learning curriculum if the pandemic refuses to cease. It is also highly likely that the instructors will add in more physical training to keep the students healthy during the quarantine.

However, in a situation where nothing is completely set, Johnson and Waters will continue to take into account students’ opinions and evolve the classes based on them.

Everything has shifted with social distancing protocols and other strict COVID-19 mandates. So even if we go back on campus and do all things that we used to do in JROTC pre-pandemic, they will not be the same. The most effective way of keeping the program growing is to know about the virus better and adjust the situations based on what is available.

“The message of JROTC stays the same, but only the delivery of that message would be different in online learning,” Waters said. “We want you guys to continue to be good, strong, effective, and critically thinking leaders.”