Magazine article The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education

Civil Air Patrol Cadet Program: Student Leaders Take Flight

Magazine article The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education

Civil Air Patrol Cadet Program: Student Leaders Take Flight

Article excerpt

In seventh grade in 2004, Nataly Rivera was a natural athlete, track and field material and an average student who like thousands of other middle schoolers wanted to find her place in Shelby, Texas. Then she saw an elective class that spoke to her - the Civil Air Patrol Cadet Program.

An Air Force Auxiliary Program, the Civil Air Patrol-CAP-was created in the late 1930s as a volunteer organization to aid in aviation missions for the United States. The more than 130,000 volunteers answered the call to service with the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Today, the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) continues in a different capacity as a nonprofit. It is composed by three parts: the cadet program for youth ages 12-21, aerospace education and emergency training services.

Using aviation as its educational cornerstone, the cadet program offers classes in leadership and developmental training; physical agility challenges; time management skills and a glimpse at the integrity that comes from discipline, planning and accountability. There are more than 24,000 cadets nationally. They participate in all three of CAP's missions, including disaster relief and search and rescue missions.

Rivera got over the first self-conscious hurdle of having to wear a uniform-and started to thrive in the program. "CAP gives you confidence," she said. "I always felt older, felt in charge. I was allowed to be responsible, got to plan and run events. My opinion mattered."

Rivera stayed with the program through high school, learning how to balance all her activities-working part-time, national honor society, drill team and volunteering with special needs children. She made a mini-career out of her time as a cadet, and leadership skills took root.

"We could work our way up the ranks from airman to senior airman and make actual progress. If I do this, then I can move up, get more markers, so I kept getting promoted."

The challenges helped her set other goals. "I somehow did things I never thought I could do. I'd ask, 'How am I supposed to lead all these people?' But I did. I was a drill team commander for two years, and we even went to nationals."

She is convinced her experience with CAP got her into to Baylor University where she eventually graduated with a degree in communication sciences and disorders and now has a career as a speech pathologist for children.

Regimens Build Character

Retired Army Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Gerry Levesque now serves as Senior CAP instructor and Squadron Commander at C.E. King Middle School in Houston, Texas. He sees CAP is an alternative to limited resources or outlets for students. "When you have a thousand kids and only 24 spots on the basketball team, what happens to talented students who don't make the cut?"

CAP can fill that need with its physical agility tests as well as educational and leadership building skills. There are challenges and competitions, expectations and goals to set.

Regimens are important and build character, explained Levesque. They write weekly papers and learn to take pride in raising the flag, wearing a uniform and being organized. At the end of the day, they are called to attention and are dismissed. Reinforcement, parameters and expectations become inherent. They excel with goals they can reach. There are hands-on experiences at space camp, national drill team, free flight school and Cadet Officer School.

In a school where 74 percent of the students are Hispanic, Levesque also sees CAP as another advantage in building a future college app or resume. …

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