LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – There’s a new school in central Arkansas and it’s unlike any other in the state.
On Wednesday, classes officially started at the new Arkansas Military and First Responders Academy in Little Rock.
Marine Lt. Colonel Jason Smedley is the commandant of the academy. He said he is excited for the first day.
“This is important because it’s the first in Arkansas and it gives Arkansans, especially central Arkansas, an opportunity for a new way to have education,” Smedley said.
Smedley said he has been waiting around a year for the Academy to begin, he adds its creation was made possible through state funds and private donors.
He said they also offer a college preparatory curriculum to prepare students for after high school and they also have a JROTC framework and STEM for cadets which will include pre-engineering, coding and cybersecurity.
The lieutenant colonel said overall they have 80 cadets who are in 9th and 10th grade, however just because they’re cadets with the academy, it doesn’t commit them to joining the military.
“They don’t have to join the military, they don’t have to be a first responder and they don’t have to go to college, but we want to make sure when they walk across that stage with their diploma, they have a realistic plan for the way ahead after high school,” Smedley said. “We believe in three things: keep them safe, challenged and life prepared for life after high school.”
Parent Tracy Gay said her 15-year-old daughter is one of the cadets at the academy and she is excited for what it means for her family.
“I could just break down and cry. My heart is beating out of my chest,” Gay said “I’m so excited for my family. We need this.”
She added that when her daughter put the academy’s uniform on, it was in honor of her dad.
“He was a police officer for 30 years and he passed away in January, so she says she is honoring her dad to do this.” Gay explained. “She said her outfit smelt like her dad this morning when she put it on, and you don’t even know how they made us feel.”
Smedley said tuition is free for all cadets which includes the cost of the uniforms.
Cadet Eduardo Delgado, 14 years old, said going to the academy will help with his future plans.
“I’m very big on the military,” Delgado said. “I plan on joining the Marine Corps.”
Cadet Cayden Baxter is 16 years old and said attending also helps with his future plans to go into the military and do anything law related. Baxter suggested to young people around his age to keep an open mind when it comes to the academy.
“ROTC may seem scary like a spooky camp or something like that but it’s not,” Baxter said. “It’s having fun and learning military leadership.”
Gay said the academy could open opportunities for everyone attending.
“It’s not just about going to school and getting an education, it’s about their future,” Gay said. “They need a plan, they need a goal.”
Smedley said after two to three years they should have a full school meaning they should have cadets from 9th to 12th grade.