- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 27, 2002

The 14-year-old slumped in his desk chair, sinking into his baggy jeans and oversized T-shirt, was trying to talk back, but retired Army Sgt. Charles Moore wasn't listening.

"It's 'Yes sir' or 'No sir.' Is that so hard to explain?" Sgt. Moore barked at the teen, who slouched lower with each word. "You're going to have to start getting used to it."

Things are different this year for the roughly 400 ninth-graders, boys and girls alike, who started school yesterday at Forestville Military Academy, the new name for Forestville High School.

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Once Prince George's County's lowest-performing high school, the school is the first in Maryland to become a public military academy.

Morning inspection and drills will become a daily routine. Military history and education will be mingled with regular ninth-grade curriculum. Uniforms will be required. And anyone who misbehaves will have to hit the floor for push-ups.

Each incoming freshman class will be placed in a strict military regimen that the county hopes will keep teens on the right track.

"Our push is for these students to leave and go to college. We're not pushing the military," said Principal Eric Lyles. "If a child wants to go to the military, that's between them and their family."

Forestville is an initiative of Prince George's County schools chief executive Iris T. Metts, who sees it as a way to turn around the school with the lowest SAT scores in the county. Mrs. Metts and the county school board approved the plan last year despite concerns from parents that it would become a recruiting tool for the military.

Enrollment is voluntary, students and faculty who choose not to take part are allowed to transfer elsewhere and the academy is open to students from across the county.

The school requires all ninth-graders to be part of the Army's Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps, the military's program for high school students, and remain in the program for all four years of high school.

The Army will pay for the four types of uniforms the students have to wear, as well as books and other materials for their JROTC classes, Mr. Lyles said. Many of the new faculty are retired Army staff, like Sgt. Moore.

As of yesterday, several elements of the new academy still weren't in place. The uniforms won't be ready until today and the academy's commandant, National Guard Maj. Gen. Warren Freeman, won't arrive until December.

Students already had a week of orientation two weeks ago, and started yesterday with a roll call and inspection. Posters with soldiers and slogans like "Army Values" hung in the school library.

"My parents chose for me to come here, but now I like the style and the way they do things," said one 14-year-old Suitland boy, who was not identified because of school policy.

"My parents can't believe it."

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