One of the West Bank’s best-kept secrets might be the New Orleans Military and Maritime Academy (Federal City, 425 O’Bannon St., 504-227-2810; www.nomma.net), a public charter school where all students are cadets of the Marine Corps Junior Reserve Officer Training Program (JROTC).
The school opened in 2011 to offer military families stationed in New Orleans a high-quality, free education for their children. Enrollment preference is given to military families, but otherwise, enrollment is open to anyone who wants to attend. The school covers eighth to 12th grades.
“We get a pretty diverse and talented group,” says NOMMA Commandant Col. Chris Schlafer. “We pull cadets from multiple parishes (mostly Jefferson and Orleans). Demographically, we are at almost 37% African-American, 32% Hispanic … about 29% Caucasian and a smaller percentage of Asian and other ethnic backgrounds.”
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All students are required to participate in Marine Corps JROTC and wear uniforms the entire time they attend NOMMA, the largest JROTC unit in the nation, Schlafer says, but they are not expected to join the military after high school. Only about 15% of NOMMA students go into the military upon graduation, he says.
“We are a college preparatory school and we also offer career and technical education in the form of Louisiana’s Jump Start programs,” Schlafer says. “The idea behind that is a student will take a certain pathway of courses in ninth through 12th grades. By the time they graduate as seniors, they have earned nationally recognized credentials and certifications that will allow them, upon graduation, to enter the workforce, because college is not for everybody.” Those include maritime industry, cyber engineering, digital media and business management.
Civilian teachers instruct students in core subjects and 10 retired Marines handle the JROTC duties and mentoring.
“Our focus is to try to inculcate in them core values, honor, courage, community and instill in them habits of respect, self-discipline and respect for others — habits that will serve them well in whatever field they choose.” The main curriculum is STEM-focused and students receive a background in reading, English language arts and math. Those who need help in their studies are given school time for remediation classes, and NOMMA offers free after-school tutoring three times a week.
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It’s a system that appears to work. “For the 2017-18 school year we had a 97% graduation rate, which exceeded by over 20 points both Orleans and Jefferson Parish averages,” Schlafer says. Last week the school was acknowledged by New Schools for New Orleans as one of the top four New Orleans public high schools for the number of students scoring three or above on Advanced Placement tests.
The JROTC part of the program includes military drills and marching, marksmanship, color guard competitions, education bowls and physical competition. Sports offerings include basketball, baseball, softball, cross-country, track and the city’s only coed wrestling program.
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