Inside the Gates: Chugiak NJROTC instructors get creative to keep students engaged online

The military-like elective class usually relies on in-person instruction to show students proper formations. Now, instructors are using chess pieces.
Published: Oct. 14, 2020 at 1:27 PM AKDT
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CHUGIAK, Alaska (KTUU) -Teaching students in the Naval Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (NJROTC) is all about building relationships for Gunnery Sergeant Rene Dervaes.

“Kind of coming together with people you maybe wouldn’t normally come together with and then working together to accomplish a common goal like a mission,” Dervaes said. “The military does that really well and that’s the one thing I think they really take from this class no matter what they go on to do.”

There’s an added challenge this year with all of the Anchorage School District classes moving online.

Dervaes and Lieutenant Colonel Lia Koloski are both Marines and the Naval Science instructors at Chugiak High School.

Dervaes said the NJROTC program isn’t necessarily a military prep class but a good elective course in life skills.

“It’s a class that teaches the things we do really well in the military like orderliness and precision and structure. Really helps kids get in the habit of doing all things that way,” he explained.

They’re finding unique ways to keep students engaged over Zoom.

From quizzing them on the Orders of the Sentry to doing online inspections to check appearance and attire.

“The resolution of the camera, I can’t really see if that’s a good shave but I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt man. So it’s tough,” Dervaes said. “And it’s waist up, so they could be wearing pajama pants with a uniform shirt but you give them the benefit of the doubt. You do your best.”

For one class, Dervaes used a chessboard with special Marine and Air Force pieces to show students the proper formation for a promotion ceremony, moving the small figures around the board.

“It’s a hard thing to explain, you need to see it. It’s a very tactile class,” he said.

Senior Chief Ethan Fox has been in the program for four years. His father was in the Army and Fox has aspirations to join the Army too and become a helicopter pilot.

He said the digital training isn’t ideal and he misses the camaraderie of his classmates.

“I’ve got to say not being with the people you’ve grown up with in the program, especially the new kids coming in," Fox said. “I really wish I was here with everyone I’ve known and doing all the activities we love doing.”

Instructors are trying to keep the online lessons the same so the students will have an easier time transitioning back into the classroom, whenever that may be.

“We’re giving it our best to deliver a quality product that will challenge them mentally and physically, tough thing to do. But we put in a lot of time trying to think of the best way to deliver this and so far I think we’re very much doing the best we can,” Dervaes said.

For now, they’re learning what it takes to maintain relationships when they can’t be together in person by staying connected on Zoom until in-person learning resumes.

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