With the arrival of the new year, graduating seniors are solidifying their future plans.

While some students look to college degrees or trade schools, military service is a growing trend at one local high school.

Hope Smith, counselor at Juniata Valley High School, said 2019 showed the highest volume of students who committed to joining various branches of the military.

“Last school year had the highest rate of students commit to the military that we’ve ever seen,” Smith said. “We have on record that 15 percent of the graduating class joined with the military ... that would be eight of the 53 students who graduated.”

This increase, however, was not gradual. Smith stated it happened suddenly.

“Oftentimes we’ll see only 2 or 3% of students (enlist), which would amount to a very small group, much smaller than we’re seeing now,” Smith said. “This is what I’ve seen over the last 10 years. This is a new increase.”

Current information shows that 12 of the current 61 seniors set to graduate, or 19%, have expressed interest in enlisting, continuing the upward trend.

“We already have a lot of students interested this year, one already enlisted,” Smith said. “Eleven have expressed interest, and one already enlisted in the National Guard.”

The trend has also been seen at other schools in the county.

Susan Hendricks, counselor at Mount Union Area High School, said several students of the previous class enlisted, and the current number of those interested is high.

“Out of the previous class, we had about six people go to the military,” Hendricks said. “It’s far too early to say how the next class will turn out. But, as it stands, we have 11 students interested and one confirmed. Though I can’t say what will happen by the end of the year. Students still have time to investigate possible career paths.”

As to why the sudden increase in interest has occurred, Smith believes answers vary.

“I cannot personally say what motivates each student, but there are a few different reasons,” Smith said. “One reason, for example, is that they may be influenced by their family members; perhaps some of their relatives have served, or they have other personal reasons.”

Smith, however, believes the prevailing reason for many is future financial stability.

“For many, the cost of education after high school has become nearly unobtainable,” Smith said. “There has been a trend recently for classmates to see their former peers or loved ones enter the workforce in less-than-ideal financial situations. The military can provide people with a decent life, give them a good career and even allow them to afford schooling down the road.”

The variety of opportunities, too, seems appealing.

“The National Guard, for example, they will not pull people unless necessary, not to mention the large selection of careers in the military within the branches,” Smith said. “The variety is appealing. A student can select where they want to go and what they want to do.”

Hendricks also believe finances can be a factor in the decision.

“For those going for a good career or a good education, the military does have that appeal,” Hendricks said. “Many do go for that reason, though I cannot confirm how many that accounts for.”

Regardless of personal reasons or the number of those interested, both schools keep the option available to students.

“We have an open-door policy with all branches of the military,” Smith said. “Recruiters are welcome and seen often by students within the building, even when not recruiting. They are a big help with my job.”

“Recruiters from different branches are allowed to set up an appointment once a month,” Hendricks said. “They have table displays at lunch, where students can come, ask questions and collect information. Recruiters are also welcome to come and meet with particular students who are interested in enlisting.”

Joshua can be reached at jblattenberger@huntingdondailynews.com.

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