Thursday, November 25, 2010

My son, the Cadet

Student with Down Syndrome becomes JROTC Cadet

By John Richmeier
When enrolling her son Stephen at Leavenworth High School, Cindy Bartko has noticed a table for the Junior ROTC program. But she never pursued having her son join the program.

Stephen has Down syndrome.

But he was among the many JROTC cadets to appear in Thursday’s Veterans Day parade in downtown Leavenworth.

The high school sophomore began attending JROTC classes earlier this month.
He became involved in the high school program after he was invited to fire a JROTC cannon during an Oct. 22 home football game at the high school.

“He got a real kick out of it,” Cindy said.

Retired Lt. Col. David Black told Cindy JROTC officials would work with her son. Black is the senior Army instructor for JROTC at Leavenworth High School.

“He wanted Stephen to be in the program,” she said.

Stephen’s high school schedule was juggled in order to accommodate JROTC classes. Cindy said Stephen has someone to assist him in class.

“Our mission is to build better citizens,” Black said.

He said the other cadets learn something from having Stephen in the program.

“We as people tend to shy away from people with disabilities,” Black said.

The senior Army instructor said he also learns from having Stephen as a cadet.

Stephen lives in Basehor but attends special education classes at Leavenworth High School.

Cindy said her son feels a sense of pride in the JROTC program, which is visible in the way he carries himself.

“He just feels like he belongs, and you can tell that,” she said.

He began JROTC classes Nov. 1. Thursday’s parade marked the first time he wore a JROTC uniform.

Stephen also has attended Leavenworth High School home football games as part of a fundraiser program called First Downs for Down Syndrome and was named an honorary co-captain of the football team, Cindy said.

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