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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

I'm Farai Chideya, and this is NEWS & NOTES.

You may have had to wear a uniform in high school, but was it a military uniform? Chicago's public school system houses the largest junior military reserve program in the country. It cut the ribbon yesterday on its first Marine military academy - a high school run in partnership with the U.S. Marines. Some parents and activists claim it's not about reading and writing but military recruitment.

Colonel Rick Mills manages Chicago Public Schools' military academies and Junior ROTC. Darleen Gramina is the program director of the Truth in Recruitment Program, which is part of the American Friends Service Committee. She has an eighth grader in Chicago's public school system. Welcome.

Lieutenant Colonel RICK MILLS (U.S. Army, Retired; Director, Chicago Public Schools' Military Academies and Junior ROTC): Thank you.

Ms. DARLEEN GRAMINA (Program Director, Truth in Recruitment Program): Thank you.

Lt. Col. MILLS: Pleasure to be here.

CHIDEYA: So Colonel Mills, these schools are run by the military. What does that mean?

Lt. Col. MILLS: Well, actually they're not. And I know it's been reported that the Marine military academy is being run by the Marine Corps, but these are actually high schools that are run by Chicago Public Schools in partnership with the various services that provide the JROTC instructors and the curriculum and the uniforms.

CHIDEYA: But you're a colonel in the military. You managed schools. Isn't that the same thing as the military running schools?

Lt. Col. MILLS: No, ma'am. I'm retired and have been for over six years now. And I'm a Chicago Public School employee and have no affiliation with the military in this present position.

CHIDEYA: So what happens when a child enrolls in this Marine academy?

Lt. Col. MILLS: Well, we have a centralized application process for all of our military academies, and we have enrollment criteria. And we want to make sure that this is an educational choice that the parents and the students really want, and they understand the expectations and what it's like to attend a school - a military academy high school in Chicago. And so we want to make sure we have a good match with the students and the parents and they fully understand what the military academy means and represent. And, of course, you know, that helps identify and matches the students so that they fully realize what it means to be there.

CHIDEYA: Now, Darleen, let me go to you. You have a child in the Chicago Public Schools and, not for your child, but for others who have a choice whether or not to go, could this be an opportunity?

Ms. GRAMINA: I think it is pitched as an opportunity. The question I have is what other public school resources are being put towards the military academies that take away from letting community high schools have more resources. And those are questions that we have about how much money does the military put in, how much money does the Chicago public schools put in. So those all bring up questions and perhaps it serves some people, but the question is does it take away from the general fund for a Chicago public education either now or in the future.

CHIDEYA: So what about the qualities that the colonel says are going to be imbued, things like leadership? Do you believe that, that part of the program will be successful?

Ms. GRAMINA: I personally don't have any idea whether it will be successful or not. I think that every school - public school, private school - should be teaching leadership as well. And I know many people who are in leadership that don't go to the military academies from Chicago Public Schools. So, you know, for me, it's not really an issue that they learn leadership. I think there's leadership available from every educational opportunity - or at least I hope there is.

CHIDEYA: Now, Chicago Public Schools has this large - the largest program of involvement with the military and Junior ROTC. Have there been questions or protests about this before?

Ms. GRAMINA: I think there has been concerns about - certainly about the numbers of programs that are opening that Chicago Public Schools seem to be the most militarized in the country and the question of why, when school systems like San Francisco are getting rid of, you know, JROTC programs, and Seattle is limiting the access of military recruiters to school, why Chicago needs to go so full force into having every branch of the service represented in separate military academies. I think that seems both locally and nationally to be quite extreme.

CHIDEYA: Colonel Mills, is this a funnel for the U.S. military? Is that where you want people to go?

Lt. Col. MILLS: Absolutely not. We look at the JROTC program and the military academies as an opportunity to provide our students an educational choice. Participation in JROTC in the high schools, participation and attendance to a military academy is an educational choice. Students can choose to either participate or not in both of those programs. And we do an exit survey every year of all the JROTC cadets across the city in the programs to include the military academies. And our indications of those surveys is that less than 7 percent are indicating any interest in going to military when they graduate.

CHIDEYA: Let me get Darlene in because our time is short. What's your thought? Is this a pipeline?

Ms. GRAMINA: Well, I mean, it was created as a pipeline because in 1960, the National Defense Act that was set aside by President Woodrow Wilson defined that reserve officer training course would be prepared to train and prepare high and college students for Armed - Army service. So that was the design of it and, you know, to my mind, the design has not changed - that we have military academies and the ROTC programs to prepare students for Army service.

CHIDEYA: All right. Darlene and Colonel Mills, thank you so much.

Col. MILLS: Thank you.

Ms. GRAMINA: Welcome.

CHIDEYA: Darlene Gramina is the program director of the Truth in Recruitment Program. Colonel Rick Mills manages Chicago Public Schools' military academies and Junior ROTC.

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