CAMP DAWSON, W.Va. — Five high schools in the state gathered at Camp Dawson for the West Virginia National Guard’s Future Leaders Program (FLP) and held the North Schools competition at the Mountaineer ChalleNGe Academy gymnasium. Retired U.S. Army Command Sargent Major and FLP Executive Director Deborah Patterson said teams from Brooke High School, Buckhannon-Upshur High School, Morgantown High School, University High School, and Tucker County High School participated in the event.

“There’s not one particular group of students that we want in our class—we want everybody,” Patterson said. “Because we believe providing equal opportunity to all students is what’s important in the state of West Virginia because we want all kids to feel like they have value, purpose, and impact.”

The voluntary program is for grades 9 through 12 and focuses on first aid, emergency preparedness, citizenship, leadership, physical fitness, drill and ceremony, and a healthy lifestyle.

“A lot of these kids don’t have structure at home,” FLP Instructor at University High School Warren Bosch said. “Wherever they might be in West Virginia, we have a big mix of kids here, so just providing some type of structure for them is awesome, and many of them respond to it very well.”

Lesson topics deal broadly with leadership, citizenship, life skills, and military science. The program emphasizes the importance of working as a team, having pride, developing self-confidence, and coping with challenges or failure.

“It’s a continual thing throughout the school year,” Patterson said. “Everything they face in the future, they’ll know because we also teach them resiliency skills that are built into our program, so when they fail now, they have coping mechanisms they need for the future.”

The courses are presented to the students by veterans who have been trained and employed by the West Virginia Military Authority (WVMA).

Bosch said the students benefit from the discipline lessons that are the backbone of the program. Over the course of the course of the four-year program, students learn and become accustomed to expectations.

“The biggest thing with high school kids is they don’t want to take orders; they want to be on their phones and listen to music in their earbuds,” Bosch said. “It’s a huge part of life, and we’re trying to teach them to be better people.”

During phases of the program, instructors bring civic and business leaders to address the classes. The sessions introduce students to the people behind the processes they learn about during the school year.

“We expose them to dignitaries, and we bring those people inside the schools so they can learn that type of thing,” Patterson said. “So, when they do participate in community events, they have better communication skills and a better presentation.”

FLP can be a one-year or multi-year program and is a lower-cost alternative to JROTC and the National Defense Corps of Cadets.