Commentary: Sussex Tech learning should include ROTC

By Tim Shaffer

I believe very strongly in the importance of high school workplace learning.

A few months ago, I read with interest (and amusement) that Sussex Tech would be requiring all students to participate in their work-based learning program. Today I read your follow-up in the Delaware State News (“Sussex Tech’s JROTC program to be discontinued,” 3/11/20) regarding ROTC and how the work-based learning requirement has doomed it.

I have seen firsthand the many positive results work-based learning has had on those who matter the most – the students (and to local employers who need well-trained, well-behaved new employees).

But a cookie cutter approach that requires “all” students must take part in work-based learning assumes that they are all the same. They are not. They come from such varied backgrounds, home life, experiences and habits (good and bad), that schools must be creative in developing work-based learning experiences for some. A school’s goal should not be 100% will participate, it should be 100% who are capable will participate.

Now to the ROTC issue: Not all career and technical education (CTE) programs lend themselves to full time work-based learning. Some form of off-campus real-world experience, like shadowing a professional for several days, is good – but again, be creative with those CTE fields and students that require more classroom instruction.

For example, an ROTC student who has criminal justice as their CTE focus could shadow the base checkpoint for a few days (with proper training agreements). Computer Engineering Technology, Electronics Technology, Engineering Design Technology, and yes, ROTC (though not an actual CTE program) require flexibility in scheduling for work-based learning.

Those programs, to name a few, give high stakes certification exams that will benefit the student when applying for a post-graduate job. Students must prepare for those exams in the classroom.

In a perfect world they would have the exams completed by their senior year, but that is not always possible. Can a Computer Engineering student really complete the following industry certification exams in addition to regular classwork, and then do full time work-based learning?

Basic Industry Certifications:
• CompTIA® A+ Certification (2 Exams)
• Cisco Certified Entry Networking Technician (CCENT)
• Cisco Certified Network Associates (CCNA) Routing and Switching

Advanced Industry Certifications:
• CompTIA® Network + Certification (1 Exam)
 • CompTIA® Security + Certification (1 Exam)
 • LPI Linus Essentials Certified Linux Operating System Support Specialist

And I haven’t even gotten into how A.P. courses and 3rd and 4th year language courses are affected by “required” work-based learning.

The point is that schools should be flexible with the best interest of the student being the priority, taking into account student needs and abilities along with course requirements and individual student goals. Remember, it’s about getting students ready for the real world AND providing competent employees for our local businesses. It is not about how administrators can make themselves look good by implementing unrealistic goals that look good on paper.

I’ll end where I started: You will not find a bigger believer in the value of work-place learning programs than me.

P.S. I find it a convenient spin that in the most recent article, the administration claims “I am not taking the heat. … This is not our decision and I want to make that painfully aware that we are not making the decision to close it [ROTC] down.” “We have no qualified instructors” … “that is the reason.” Gee, I wonder if the previous news releases and articles that put future instructor jobs in a precarious position have anything to do with the inability to find qualified instructors. Apply for a position and move your family to the area for a position that doesn’t sound like it will exist in a year or two? No thanks.

Tim Shaffer is a resident of Wyoming.