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Celebrating another year of Youth Academy graduates

Celebrating another year of Youth Academy graduates

By Jason Kriess
Washington National Guard

“Class 2023-2, dismissed!” bellowed Commandant Chris Acuña to a formation of 134 cap and gown-adorned students seated in a large gymnasium at the Tacoma Community College. Looking on with homemade signs of praise and congratulations for their graduating cadets were hundreds of family members and friends.

December 15 was graduation day for the Washington Youth ChalleNGe Academy, a 22-week residential program that transforms at-risk teens into confident, capable young adults while also allowing them to earn lost high school credits and get back on track to graduating.

Through a rigorous blend of academics, physical training, leadership development and character-building activities, the quasi-military academy instills in its cadets the values and skills they need to navigate the often-turbulent waters of adolescence.

Cadet Corporal Ethan Sands from Vancouver, Washington struggled greatly toward the beginning of the cycle but found his way and demonstrated the kind of growth and improvement that many of the graduating students exhibit.

“I learned so much from this program and so happy I came here,” he said during his speech to the audience. “I’m so grateful for the cadre and staff for motivating me to stay here.”

Speaking on behalf of her platoon, Cadet Dayjah Catherine-Mae Moore recalled the little squabbles and tiffs that often-times come with living in group settings. “There were many time where we would have arguments about so many different things – from overall lack of respect, to simple sock buns and whether or not we had parts in our hair,” she said. “Despite all of that, every cadre taught us something valuable which has played a part in who we are and who we will continue to become.”

The Academy is a community, a crucible where bonds of camaraderie are forged in the shared sweat and tears of early morning runs and last-minute study sessions. Collectively, the 134 graduating students retrieved a total of 970 high school credits averaging 7.2 credits each. The average grade level gain from those that finished the program was 0.9 grade levels in 22 weeks. They contributed 7,100 hours of community service valuing more than $225,000. The average GPA for academy courses was 2.72, which is a B-.

Aside from academics, the WYCA is space that encourages life-coping skills, employment potential and mentoring relationships that have long-reaching impact on the cadet’s lives. Cadets gain the self-confidence and qualities of what it takes to become productive members of society.

There have now been 3,541 graduates of the program.