When middle schoolers returned to campus in-person after being home during the onset and rise of COVID-19, their world was completely changed. In particular, Daniel Brooks, Principal of Woodlake Hills Middle School noticed his students struggling to re-engage in school and in need of reminders about conflict resolution. The solution to the problem has been implementing the Leadership Officer Training Corps (LOTC), a program geared toward empowering middle school students to become community leaders.

“Our students were struggling to deal with conflict and didn’t seem to be able to talk things through or reason with each other,” Brooks said.

When the JISD Innovation Office launched in spring 2022, community members requested a program to help students reacclimate to school and reach their full potential. Chief Innovation Officer ​​Cecilia Davis brought the idea of LOTC to the Judson ISD superintendent and the school board was very supportive.

LOTC began in all five JISD middle schools at the start of the 2022 school year.

Cadets in the program are taught by an LOTC instructor and engage in project-based learning, after-school activities and community service.

Cynthia Brown, a 20-year Army veteran, is the designated LOTC instructor at Woodlake Hills. She said one of her favorite parts about the program is watching students discover confidence.

“I like how we can instill leadership principles and uncover the attributes they already possess,” she said. “We work on teamwork, communication skills and building each other’s self confidence. The biggest thing I enjoy about the program is seeing that lightbulb come on when they actually find themselves able to do something they didn’t think they could do at the beginning.”

Captain Ray, the LOTC instructor at Metzger, said the program impacts parents just as much as it does students.

“Some parents come out to open houses. It was mind-boggling because to them, they are just regular students, but in class they are leaders with responsibility,” he said. “It’s pretty neat to see them in that capacity.”

Captain Ray’s LOTC class of cadets organized a 9/11 assembly for the school and plans to organize a similar event for Veterans Day. In addition, his cadets also volunteer at a food bank and distribute food every fourth Wednesday of the month.

“It’s not about the school,” he said. “It’s about the community, and getting the students to see how they can be better citizens.”

In addition to after-school activities, band and choir involvement and community service, students also get to hone their speaking and communication skills.

Eric Otto, the LOTC instructor at Kitty Hawk, has his students lead the school announcements in the morning to help bolster their public speaking skills. In addition, he tells his cadets to take pride in the LOTC uniform they wear every Wednesday.

The LOTC program has about 500 students enrolled for the 2022-23 school year and has already made an impact on the middle school’s culture and the surrounding community. Brooks said in 2021, the school had the highest number of physical altercations he had seen as a principal. Now, students are able to handle issues and build relationships with each other.

“At first, our students were struggling to deal with conflict, and they didn’t seem to be able to talk things through and reason with each other,” he said. “Everyone was ready to throw hands instead of talking. Now, our students are beginning to gel with each other and the LOTC leaders help squash a lot of drama middle schoolers can have.”

For Brooks and other JISD teachers and administrators, this means a decrease in time spent in the front office dealing with referrals. The program is also a direct path to JROTC programs offered in JISD high schools, and the two organizations are already working together.

Brooks said the program continues to be successful and in the future, he hopes to see a waiting list for LOTC.

“I know that will come because other students will see how fun it’s been for the current students,” he said. “I want to be able to say I need another LOTC instructor on my campus because my numbers are increasing.”

Find enrollment information, instructor biographies and more on the JISD website. For more information about LOTC, visit the JISD website here.

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