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Charlotte cadets help resurrect leadership mission at Providence High

By Elisabeth Arriero
erriero@charlotteobserver.com

Four years ago, things looked bleak for the Providence High School NJROTC program.

The organization was two-thirds the size it was supposed to be. It was on probation with the Navy, which was threatening to cut funding. And leadership at the school was talking about axing the program.

But under the leadership of 1st Sgt David Worthy, the program has grown by 74 percent, from 66 members to 115. The Navy has taken it off probation. And student cadets are now winning national awards in every competition.

“The issue here was that somebody needed to come in and get it fired up and going,” said Worthy, who is the program’s naval science instructor. “It was like a little flicker that exploded.”

Worthy, a 20-year retired Marine, said when he arrived at Providence, the NJROTC (Navy Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps) program was “dying on the vine.”

The student body really didn’t know what NJROTC was, which is a national program that instills in students the values of citizenship, service to the United States, personal responsibility and a sense of accomplishment.

Even the cadets didn’t seem to understand the core mission of the program, said Worthy.

“There was a lack of attention and care,” he said. “It wasn’t made to be important and anything that’s not made to be important doesn’t go very far.”

Worthy wasn’t deterred, adding with a smile that, “Marines like a challenge.” He transformed the program by first impressing upon cadets the NJROTC values of honor, courage and commitment.

He also dusted off the medals and ribbons the Navy had given for distribution to students. He started rewarding cadet achievements with them. He explained the importance of making sure uniforms look sharp. He also started treating cadets less like students and more like budding leaders.

Students started winning national competitions, including those for orienteering, academics and marksmanship.

As cadets began taking ownership of the program once more, they started expanding their efforts school-wide. One cadet created a system for cleaning up the area where students eat after each lunch period.

Administrators took notice.

“They really bought into the program because the students showed the value they were bringing to our school,” said Worthy.

Worthy also started a public campaign, visiting middle schools with cadets to share with rising 9th graders the value of joining the NJROTC.

And it’s not just about seeking a career in the military, said Worthy.

“It’s about leadership and character development,” he said. “It’s about developing students mentally, physically and even spiritually. We’re developing them to become good citizens of the United States.”

Bradley Alion, a senior cadet, said he was prone to slacking off before he joined the NJROTC. He didn’t try hard in school, he didn’t exercise much and his grades were unimpressive.

Then he joined the NJROTC in high school because of his family’s military history.

“My grades went up. I could actually run a mile and not die after. I love school now,” he said. “I take the leadership I’ve learned everywhere and I make sure not to do stupid things outside of ROTC.”

Rebeca Teran, who was recognized as cadet of the year as a freshman, said she struggled with shyness when she came to Providence.

Now the sophomore leads on the NJROTC academic team.

“It helped me find myself and find my friends,” she said. “I was just really quiet and this program taught me to take charge, speak up and stand out.”

Worthy said that’s the point.

“Everyone can fit in here,” he said. “We find a place where they belong. Like I say, you get in where you fit in and then you make the best of it.”

Arriero: 704-358-5945; Twitter: @earriero
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