Six Bryan County teens are among more than 150 students who recently graduated from the Youth Challenge Academy, sponsored by the National Guard.
Pembroke residents Demetric Corley, Rodashia Williams and Harold Geiger and Ellabell residents Eric Grant and Gyran Ward are all members of the summer Class of 2008 Youth Challenge Academy (YCA) of Fort Stewart.
The students graduated at the Macon City Auditorium from this 22-week, voluntary residential youth program aimed at teens ages 16-18 who have dropped out of high school. The military-style program provides the opportunity to complete basic academic courses leading to a high school diploma or GED while teaching life skills emphasized on academic, physical fitness and personal discipline.
The program was created as a response to the National Guard’s purpose: to help in cases of national emergencies.
"We asked what national emergency was facing our country in the 1990s and the answer was our high school dropout rate," YCA Director Bob Hughes said. "Those rates have reached horrendous proportions."
The National Guard Bureau started looking at various youth programs nationwide to see what worked. What they found were several fundamentals to help create the YCA: a residential program centered on discipline and structure, a follow up program where each graduate is assigned a mentor for a year and the creation of a program whose demographics are similar to that of the state.
"We have kids from all over Georgia," Hughes said. "They learn to live and work together."
The students are also trained in life skills that are often taken for granted, such as learning how to properly write a check, and each create a resume and a MAP (My Action Plan) for post-graduation…For those who come here and let the program do what it’s designed to do, it’s life changing."
Hughes said the students have told program officials, "I’m glad I came here because if I had stayed where I was, I’d be dead by now."
The academy is offered twice a year, serving about 800 students. Teens must fill out an application and write an essay about why they feel they should be accepted.
"The applicant pool is much greater than we can take. We have so many applicants already, we really need a third campus in Georgia," Hughes said.
The Georgia National Guard currently operates two campuses in Georgia; Fort Stewart is the original campus, opened in 1993, and the new campus at Fort Gordon, Augusta, which opened in 2000. To date, nearly 8,000 formerly "at risk" teens have graduated from the two academies.
Nationally, the program is offered in 27 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
"There are all kinds of reasons why kids drop out of high school but we get some really, really bright kids here each year," Hughes said. "I look at some of them and think, ‘they should have been a class president, what are they doing here?’ They have so much talent and so much to offer."
To find out more about the program, visit www.thejobsite.state.ga.us.