Students Break Away to Fall In
December 15, 2011
MILWAUKEE -- Some students at Milwaukee's Bradley Tech High School are so eager to learn more about the Army they give up their personal lunch time every Wednesday.
Staff Sgt. Paul Goodyear, a Milwaukee Company recruiter, leads a military club at the school where he meets with these curious seekers. He aims to instill in them a sense of purpose for finishing school while educating them on the U.S. Army.
When he's not teaching them how to march outdoors, he introduces basic military topics like the phonetic alphabet or rank structure.
He fields questions about the Army, deployments and training, but he also raises their awareness on the importance of education. He helps them set goals and outline plans to achieve them. Frequently, he reminds them to stay out of trouble.
"These youth need a real positive influence. They need direction," Goodyear said. "I know that I can make a difference because I've seen it happen."
At the end of the 2010-11 school year, Goodyear enlisted four Bradley Tech graduates who were members of the club. During that school year, he only met with the club twice a month. Now he's increased meetings to every week.
Club membership has grown by 75 percent from the previous year. On average he engages 25 students during the lunch hour meetings. They each come with their own set of questions about the Army or military life and they all share a notion that being a Soldier can potentially improve their lives and futures.
Jonas Vance, a senior, is attending the club for a second year. He originally wanted to get a job in welding after high school but now he's set on becoming an infantryman in the Army.
"I like the school benefits that come with (being in) the Army. I like the uniform and traveling the world," Vance said.
When Vance started attending the club in September 2010, he didn't know the Army requires a high school diploma for eligibility. Now his motivation to complete high school has doubled since an Army career is at stake.
In 2010, Bradley Tech reported a graduation rate of 74.8 percent, according to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. That's less than the state's average of 85.7 percent.
But Goodyear said he is not discouraged by the low graduation rates.
"I think that if I can give a few students reasons to finish high school, then they will change their attitude toward school and make better decisions," Goodyear said.
Antonio Ugarte, another Bradley Tech senior, has also been attending the club since 2010. He has progressed from squad leader to platoon guide. He now takes charge of a formation and marches the students during drill and ceremony instruction.
Ugarte said he's always wanted to be a police officer but now he wants the experience that comes with being in the Army. He's just not sure when or how he intends to serve.
"There's a lot about the Army that I didn't know (before joining the club) and I'm still learning," Ugarte said.
Antoinette York, a junior, is also learning about what it means to be in the military. Her sister is serving in the military and would like to follow the example.
"Right now I'm just exploring. I know joining the military is hard work but it is something that can change you as a person and make you better," York said.
Goodyear said the last 14 months have shown him there are students who want to do something meaningful with their lives but they don't know how.
"One of the things I do for them is help them focus. I try to build them up and give them hope," Goodyear said.
Goodyear makes no secret of the fact he wants to see students join the Army. But he stands in contrast to other military recruiters who pop in and out of the school building. He makes himself available to students.
Regardless of whether club members join the Army or not, the students will know that a Soldier was there pushing them to finish school, and rooting for them.
But Goodyear stands out from other military recruiters. He is the only one who sticks around to offer something on a regular basis. Even on days when he does not have a formal block of instruction, he sits down to have lunch with the students and talk about sports.