- The Washington Times - Friday, November 8, 2002

When Principal Eric Lyles walks into a ninth-grade classroom to see a teacher or casually observe a class, students jump to their feet and greet him in unison and in uniform. All greetings end with "sir" and with a smile. That is the norm, not the exception, in Maryland's first public military school.

The principal simply smiles and replies, "As you were."

The drill is new for 375 ninth-grade girls and boys, who started their freshman year at the Forestville Military Academy, formerly Forestville High School, in August. Students take college preparatory courses, participate in morning drills to get revved up and undergo meticulous inspections by military instructors.

The Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) classes focus on leadership skills and character development to give participants a foundation for success.

Although it's a military school, young men and women are not groomed specifically to enter the armed services. Mr. Lyles, 47, has another idea in mind for his charges.

"Our push is to prepare students for college. I do not allow military recruiters to talk with students; they must meet with parents," he said.

Two years ago, Mr. Lyles said a team of educators, led by Prince George's County School Superintendent Iris T. Metts, was searching for ways to improve the quality of education in the county. The team was interested in piloting a military school program, and Forestville High School was selected and modeled after a military academy in Chicago.

"Things are working out smoothly. There are some kinks. Our biggest hurdle was the uniform, but [today] over 95 percent of our students are dressed in uniform daily," Mr. Lyles said.

"There's always 5 percent who chose to test the waters. But, for the most part the students are doing what they're supposed to do and it's only going to get better," he said.

Already nine weeks into the school year and Janae Basil, 14, appreciates the structure and discipline a military academy offers. Although it took her a while to learn to appreciate the crisp green shirt, emerald trousers and spit-shined black shoes, it's a look she likes. All students are given several uniforms for various occasions, compliments of the U.S. Army.

"There's no competition here, everyone dresses alike and that eliminates confrontations. I didn't like them at first, but the uniform has grown on me," Janae said.

"And, I really like the sergeants and the [noncommissioned officers] and all of our leaders here. I believe this will be total success. Forestville used to be kind of wild, but now with the military leaders' presence, there's far less chaos," she said.

What's most important to Janae is her ability to stay on task.

"I am more focused on work and excelling in school," said Janae, president of the freshman class, who intends to be a leader.

Command Sgt. Maj. Sheila Williams wants every one of the freshmen to have that mind-set and has seen a change in students in a matter of weeks.

"We can see total improvement already [in the ninth-graders] and they've got four years to get it together. One of my mottos is: 'Our mission is to use OPM' other people's money for academic scholarships not just for athletics," the sergeant major said.

She makes sure the JROTC curriculum is followed to a T and in compliance with the Prince George's County Board of Education.

"Students learn everything that involves leadership training. They learn responsibility and accountability and participate in community projects. They learn how to be leaders, not followers," she said.

Students also are taught basic study skills and how best to manage their time, she said.

Since the JROTC program began at Forestville, the sergeant major said, instructors have tried to develop a good relationship with parents.

"Parental involvement in the program is very strong. We call the students' homes on a regular basis and keep parents apprised of their children's performance. And, we have a very strong booster club, a mix of mothers and fathers who help with fund-raising events. We work together," she said.

Kenneth Spraggin,15, chose to attend Forestville Military Academy. The program motivates him to excel in his classes and in life. Each morning at 8 his class gets together to chant: "Motivated! Motivated! Downright motivated! You can check us out! HO-OO-AH!"

Kenneth, a soft-spoken, bespectacled youth, already has identified a leader at the academy.

"CSM Johnson is a leader. We talk about how he achieved his rank. He gets along very well with students he's friendly and easy to talk to, but he's also a take-charge person," Kenneth said about character traits he admires in his teacher.

Erin Greene, 14, said she doesn't plan to enter the military and make a career out of it, but the JROTC program has done wonders for her.

"I think it's wonderful how [Forestville High] has changed to a military academy. So many kids feel like they're not going to be anything in life but here, they emphasize that we can excel. And we are not to let any obstacle stand in our way. I plan on staying for four years," Erin said.

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