Providence High School's NJROTC program teaches more than just discipline and patriotism.
It teaches citizenship.
At the beginning of the school year, the cadets of Providence's Naval Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps (NJROTC), a federal program sponsored by the U.S. armed forces in high schools throughout the country, made community service a top priority.
They wanted to complete 1,000 hours before the year's end. Far exceeding that goal, the cadets have worked more than 1,250 hours, and there's still a month of school left.
The cadets' volunteer work runs the gamut. In January, they formed an assembly line in the school cafeteria to make sandwiches for the poor and homeless through the Urban Ministry Center's Operation Sandwich, which needs 800 sandwiches a day.
The Providence High cadets made more than 950 sandwiches.
At the Levine Senior Center in Matthews, the cadets help with fundraisers and offer one-on-one assistance to senior citizens taking a course on the basics of navigating the Internet.
"Those kids are always respectful of their elders, but ... this has caused them to look at these seniors in a new light," said NJROTC assistant Dianne Wright. "They see that all ages of people are capable and excited about learning."
One of the program's biggest undertakings has been partnering with the Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation Department to help maintain William R. Davie Park, along N.C. 51.
In small and large groups, cadets and their families rake leaves, pull weeds, collect trash and spread mulch.
"This is asking the students to stop and evaluate: 'The parks don't have money this year. The budgets have been slashed. How can we as individual citizens and teenagers ... create a nice environment for patrons of the park?'" said Wright.
Twenty high schools in CMS have JROTC programs contracted with one of the military branches; Providence High's is with the Navy.
Retired Marine 1st Sgt. David Worthy leads the Providence program, which has 97 cadets this year (one-fourth are female). Next year, Providence hopes to have 120 to 150 cadets in the program.
Contrary to popular belief, said Wright, NJROTC is not a recruitment tool. Though cadets could enter the U.S. military with a higher rank if they stay in the program for three to four years, many cadets don't go on to a military career.
Regardless of military aspirations, the program creates well-rounded students because of the way it promotes leadership, focus and time-management, Wright said.
According to CMS statistics, 98 percent of JROTC students in the school system graduate on time. Wright said the community service component is an important part of that statistic.
"Providence High School is especially competition- and academically-driven ... it's easy for students to get caught up in themselves and their AP classes," said Wright. "The community service teaches them to be respectful and appreciative for the world around them and the people who live in our communities."