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After observing their classes and activities throughout the year, it seemed to me that one key to Grizzly’s success isn’t just its style of discipline, but the order and pacing in which it trains cadets for life after high school.
Later on Orientation Day, I observed a group of boys casually sitting around waiting for the rest of their platoon to finish their paperwork, so they could all be escorted to the barracks. Responding to a question that had been posed by a passing sergeant, one boy answered, “Yeah, totally.” From now on, the sergeant told him, students were expected to instead answer in the affirmative by saying, “Yes, sir.” “Does everyone understand?” the sergeant asked, after which they all sat up straight and, smiling, responded, “Yes, sir.” “I can’t hear you!” the sergeant sung out three times as he walked away, and each time the boys answered with more enthusiasm. When the sergeant was out of earshot, the boys smiled at each other and talked excitedly about the campus’s obstacle course and weight room, and the honors they wanted their platoon to earn. “Let’s go gold level,” one boy told the group.
Two months into the program, evidence of self-discipline became more apparent. The cadets regularly rotate as squad leaders, which gives them the opportunity to learn how organize their platoon, keep their classmates accountable, and mediate conflicts. “When there’s issues, the team takes care of it themselves,” one platoon leader explained. “The cadre teach us how to do that by the second week here.” During one break, I watched three cadets voluntarily doing push-ups to compare technique with each other in preparation for an upcoming physical-training test. Two cadre members wandered over apparently assuming the trio had gotten into trouble: “Did you guys fall asleep in class?” When the boys explained their purpose while continuing to count push-ups, the sergeants smiled, nodded, and let them be.
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Grizzly is expensive to run, costing the state roughly $18,000 per student—and just as LAUSD teachers are balking at widespread systems of restorative justice, taxpayers may not be ready to pay for a significant expansion of programs the one offered here. But perhaps they should reconsider: A San Luis Obispo civil grand jury in 2011 reported that the national programs have saved taxpayers well over $100 million by decreasing correctional, educational, and federal-assistance costs, while increasing community service and the tax-revenue base. The Rand Corporation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization, likewise found that the National Guard program’s nationwide results in $2.66 in social benefits for every dollar expended.
Still, even if other schools wanted to borrow a few of Grizzly’s strategies, at least two significant factors in Grizzly’s success are difficult to apply at traditional public schools. First, the students live in the barracks, protected from any outside influences. Second, these students “buy in” to the school—they choose to be there. Aspiring cadets must volunteer for this charter school, fill out paperwork, and pass at least one interview to convince the administrators that they really want to be there. In the pre-academic phases, which includes meetings and a dinner, Grizzly personnel listen closely for negative talk and weed out reluctant students. And ultimately, for all the success indicated in the MDRC study, the same study shows that three years after completing the program, there are few significant differences between graduates and their peers in the control group on measures of crime, delinquency, health, or lifestyle outcomes.