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SANTA ANA : Parents Save ROTC Unit at Mater Dei

It was business as usual at Mater Dei High School on Wednesday morning as the freshman squadron of junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps cadets stood at full attention during uniform inspection.

This scene, which has taken place each week since 1973, was destined to become a thing of the past when Mater Dei officials announced last fall that they would cancel the ROTC program at the end of the school year because of low enrollment and lack of classroom space.

Upset by the decision, parents of some of the program’s 59 students have come up with a plan that will enable ROTC to continue at the school for at least three more years--they will pay for classroom space on the crowded campus themselves.

“Five of the parents representing the ROTC Booster Club got together and began negotiating with the school administration last fall, and since then, there’s been a 180-degree turn,” said parent Bill Belisle, whose son, Steven, is a sophomore in the program.

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In order to keep the long-running program at the school, parents have agreed to pay an additional $200 each year for their child to participate in ROTC classes. The money will foot the $12,000 annual bill to lease a three-classroom portable building on campus.

School principal Lyle Porter said the situation is ideal because it will allow ROTC to continue and also provide the school with much-needed classroom space for computer and liberal arts courses.

“It turned out to be good process,” Porter said. “Prior to this, the parents hadn’t been that active. When faced with losing the program, they really came together as a group. It became very clear to us that this was something that these parents really valued for their kids.”

Parents already pay an extra $100 a year for ROTC classes, in addition to $3,500 in tuition and registration fees for regular classes. Booster club members say they are planning a series of fund raisers to help defray some of the expense.

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“The goal of the boosters is to try and raise enough money so that the additional $200 assessment is eliminated,” said Raul Delgado, whose son, Brian, is a sophomore enrolled in ROTC.

But the program’s troubles are not over. Porter says the school must enroll at least 100 students in the program for next fall, the minimum amount required by the Air Force, which partially funds the program.

Parent Kathleen Gutierrez, whose 14-year-old daughter, Adryanne, is an ROTC freshman, is spearheading a recruitment campaign that she hopes will bring in the required number of students, and then some.

“We hope to eventually be able to turn students away,” Gutierrez said. “Our goal is to make students realize that this program will benefit them no matter what area they go into. It is something they will be able to use for life.”

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For many of the students who have benefited from ROTC classes, the school’s decision to save the program comes as a relief.

“If it had been canceled, students would have missed out on a lot,” said squadron commander Kristen Zoutis, 18. “They wouldn’t have been able to build the friendships that we have built over these four years and wouldn’t have all of the memories that we do. They would have been cheated out of something special.”


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