Program marches students toward success

When Kadyn Edwards was a freshman, she was feeling mentally down, failing some of her classes and wanting to turn her life around. Thinking “why not?” she registered for a new class at her high school, not knowing then it would change her life.

“I started taking the class because I was going through a lot at home and school, and just wanted to make a positive change,” said Edwards. “I ended up having an awesome experience and wouldn’t have made it this far without it. Now, I’m earning straight As in all my classes and was just accepted into college.”

The 11th grader at Twin Falls High School is one of nearly 200 ninth through 12 grade students at three high schools to participate in the Idaho Army National Guard-sponsored, and school-facilitated, Military Leadership program each year.

The program offers curriculum similar to Junior ROTC without the federal funding. Like JROTC, the program teaches students about military values, leadership, teamwork, discipline, physical fitness, drill and ceremonies, customs and courtesies and more.

It also uniquely offers students opportunities to serve communities through philanthropy projects, as well as experience military training and career opportunities with Idaho Army National Guard units during drill weekends.

Instructor Staff Sgt. Sarah Pak said Edwards is one example of how the program helps students improve their high school experiences, while also preparing them for their futures. In May, Edwards will complete her third year in Military Leadership, while also graduating high school one year early. After graduation, she plans to study criminal psychology at the College of Southern Idaho.

“The stressors of school can be a lot for kids to handle,” said Pak. “They are trying to figure out who they are and evolve into confident individuals ready to embark on the rest of their lives. I’ve seen this program help so many of them find their ways, even those who aren’t interested in the military, because it gives them somewhere to belong and something to be part of.”

Previously called Military Science, the program was first introduced at Mountain Home High School approximately 20 years ago and was later offered at Twin Falls High School in 2019 and at Canyon Ridge High School in 2021. In August, the Idaho Army National Guard will expand the program to Idaho Falls High School at the request of the school and is currently working to offer the program in Pocatello and northern Idaho.

“I’ve gotten a lot of support from the Idaho Guard and school districts that have really helped me grow the program in the last few years,” said Pak. “They’ve seen the positive impact it has had, not only on students and their families, but also their communities, the economy and Idaho.”

The classes are taught by Idaho Guardsmen who serve as full-time instructors of the program and who have earned their credentialing, approved by the Idaho State Board of Education, through the Army Basic Instructor Course on Gowen Field. They also meet school district requirements, including background checks and drug testing evaluations.