Youth Challenge Programs are becoming more popular across the nation, as more and more teenagers are dropping out of high school. The 35 Youth Challenge programs that are now offered in 29 different states including Puerto Rico, are giving teenagers ages 16-18 a second chance at turning their life into something positive.
The Challenge program is aimed at teenagers who have dropped out of high school for various reasons, such as trouble at home, abuse, gangs, drug abuse or even just trouble getting along in a regular school setting. Each cadet that enters the Challenge program volunteers to attend. They are not forced into staying, but if they are successful in completing the program they will leave with a high school diploma, the ability to gain employment and in some cases, even college credit.
Youth Challenge is run by the National Guard and was a program that was created 16 years ago as part of a Congressional mandate to address the ever-growing problem of youth not graduating from high school. The Challenge program says their mission is as follows.
“To intervene in and reclaim the lives of 16-18 year old high school dropouts, producing program graduates with the values, life skills, education, and self-discipline necessary to succeed as productive citizens.”
Youth Challenge is a 17 1/2 month program for every cadet who enters. The first two weeks for every teenager that enters the program is referred to as the Acclamation Phase. During this phase the kids become acclimated to the physical, social, and mental aspects of the program, that they will need to become successful in the next phase. They are given haircuts, relinquish all their personal items, and given uniforms to even the playing field for everyone. The focus is on close quarter drilling, leadership, ability to follow, teamwork and physical fitness. They are continually evaluated to determine if they will be able to succeed during the Residential Phase. The next 5 months are spent in the Residential Phase, where cadets are expected to live in barracks, wear uniforms, are subjected to military style discipline and begin their quasi-military day at 4 a.m. The last 12 months of the Challenge program, the cadets will enter the Post-Residential phase, which entails a year of mentoring services by the mentors that they were matched with during the Residential Phase. During the Post-Residential phase, cadets are either attending high-school, pursuing higher education, entering the military, finding a job, or volunteering at least 30 hours a week in the community.
All Challenge Programs are provided at no cost to the families of the youth that attend. The National Guard pays for 75 percent of the program, and each individual state covers the remaining 25 percent of the cost.
Core components of the Challenge program include academic excellence, health and hygiene, job skills, leadership and followership, life coping skills, physical fitness, responsible citizenship, and community service. These are the major focuses that every cadet will be taught during their enrollment in the program. The Challenge program boasts over a 60 percent success rate in helping these high-school drop-outs gain a high school diploma or GED. Over 121,000 cadets have graduated from the nationwide program since its inception in 1993.
One of the more unique Challenge programs is located in Dillon, Montana. The MYCP is actually located at the University of Montana Western campus, which not only presents a set of unique challenges for the program, but also has a very positive aspect as well. Cadets that attend the MYCP are allowed to take college classes while they are part of the program, so not only do they leave with a high school diploma, they have the potential to leave with college credits as well.
These programs are not recruitment vehicles for the military. In fact, only about 7 percent of all graduates nationwide go on to join the military. The rest of the cadets from the Youth Challenge go on to be successful in the workforce or continue their education in college or a technical training program.
No matter what these cadets decide to pursue after the Challenge, one thing is for certain, they will be much better prepared to face the challenges of the adult world with an education and some discipline. Hopefully, the sense of community and teamwork that they learned will carry over into their adult lives, and some of them will go on to be leaders or even mentors to other youth that are struggling to find their way.
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