They’ve only been in uniform three days, and they haven’t learned much more than to stand in line and say “Yes, sir!” But it’s enough for their parents. When the 150 cadets of Hollywood Hills High Military Academy’s inaugural freshman class snapped to attention on command Saturday morning, 400 family members in the audience jumped up to give them a standing ovation.
“I’ve been joking with his dad, but it’s no joke, since he put that uniform on, he’s been standing up straighter,” Fort Lauderdale office manager Jade Pisut said of her son Cody, 14, one of the cadets standing on the auditorium stage. “It’s only three days, but we’re thrilled.”
South Florida’s first public military academy doesn’t officially open its doors until Monday, along with the rest of the Broward County school system. But the cadets came in last week to get fitted for uniforms, learn some military courtesies and customs (including the haircut). And Saturday they cut the ribbon to open their new campus, a nest of buildings at the back of Hollywood Hills High on Stirling Road.
The verdict so far: The cadets like it. Their parents love it.
“Oh, I wanted this for her so badly,” said Miriam Rodriguez, a Pembroke Pines fire-rescue worker who urged her daughter Amanda, 14 — about 40 percent of the new cadets are girls — to apply for the academy. “There’s a lot of discipline here, and they teach leadership skills. That’s what I want for my daughter. I want her to be a leader, not a follower.”
Discipline — and the boots and camouflage fatigues that the cadets wear — is mostly what distinguishes the military academy, a magnet school, from the rest of Hollywood Hills High or, for that matter, other Broward high schools.
Though their Army ROTC classes will include some military skills like map-reading and marksmanship (the cadet color guard was already equipped with the air rifles with which they’ll practice), the rest of the academic load consists of classes like biology, math and literature, the same as at any other high school. Only three of the nine teachers on staff have military backgrounds.
“Hardly any of these kids will end up entering the military,” said Lt. Col. Kim Harrell, a 23-year veteran of U.S. Army intelligence who’s the academy commandant. “Nobody wants to believe us, but we’re not recruiters, not at all. We want to teach them better citizenship, better character development and how to prepare for post-secondary instruction.
“We teach them how to set goals, how to write a resume, how to make good decisions, and we create an environment where they don’t face so many distractions. They don’t have to worry about things like ‘Do I have gang colors on, is somebody going to beat me up?’ ”
Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie, who in a brief speech to the cadets congratulated them on choosing a school “that’s no one’s idea of an easy ride,” said the statistics overwhelmingly support Harrell’s argument. The 9,350 students enrolled in ROTC programs in other Broward schools graduate at a rate of 98 to 99 percent, much higher than the kids who wear civvies to school.