I had the opportunity to attend a recruiting session for Idaho Youth ChalleNGe Academy on October 4th. The first class of from 150 to 200 cadets will form January near Pierce Idaho which is a remote location in north central Idaho. Eligible students will be residents of Idaho who need help getting back on track who are 16 to 18 years of age and either a high school dropout or at risk of that.
Youth ChalleNGe is a nationwide network of schools for struggling youth to help high school dropouts get back on track. It is funded under Federal law with a funding split of 75% federal and 25% state. It is administered by the National Guard in each state, which in Idaho is located in the military division of the state.
The recruiter explained that a major goal of the Academy is credit recovery, and through using a military structure and therapists and counselors on staff, another important goal is to teach the students teamwork, self-confidence, self-discipline, life skills and personal and career goal setting. He explained that it is coed and typically the classes are two-third males and one-third female.
When asked if it is a boot camp, he strongly differentiated Youth ChalleNGe from the typical boot camp. He explained that while boot camps tend to have the philosophy of breaking down a person in order to build them back up and can be very punitive in accomplishing this, Youth ChalleNGe has a goal of finding and helping each student build on their strengths and explore and change negative thinking. The only similarity is that Youth ChalleNGe uses a military model for structure and discipline, somewhat similar to a military boarding school.
He explained it is a 22 month program with no cost to the families. The cost of the whole program including residential, is completely carried by the government. It is broken down to a five and one-half month residential program in Pierce followed by twelve months back home working with a mentor whose job is to help the student re-integrate into his/her community and apply the lessons learned at the residential portion.
An important aspect of this is it is completely voluntary on the part of the student. They are not geared to work with an out-of-control rebellious student nor one with serious mental problems or anything needing clinical or physical treatment. Also, they must not be on parole or probation for serious offenses, and are drug free upon enrollment. Their students would be ones who are floundering, failing, and not know how to be successful.
Since this system was organized under federal law, only one new program is allowed to be founded each year. (I've never understand the political impulse to limit growth like this to even successful programs). This year is Idaho's turn to develop one, and to achieve that designation their application needed to beat out several other states that wanted a Youth ChalleNGe in their state. I think he said there are 34 programs in 29 states currently around the country with Idaho being the 35th.
In the session I attended, there were three young men attending. Obviously they had been more or less drug there by their parents, but they asked questions and all three expressed an interest and filled out the application form. It seemed voluntary to me. From some of the discussion, it was obvious their parents had been frustrated by their lack of motivation, staying in bed to skip school, etc. They well might have been bored or unchallenged by school, and seemed to see this as a challenge. It was very much like a lot of young men my age way back when who joined the army as a way out of the listless existence they were leading and were interested in the potential challenge the army then offered.
I've been hearing about the Youth ChalleNGe Academy programs elsewhere for years, and the limited feedback I've heard has been generally positive. This is not for the students we typically work with as Independent Educational Consultants, but for a parent without financial means and frustrated by a child who is unmotivated and not getting their act together but not acting out seriously, it might be a decent solution. That is if that student lives in state that has been allowed to establish one of these.