At-risk students in Eastern Kentucky have a new option option to finish school or catch up on missing high school credits while learning discipline and physical fitness as a part of a new chapter of the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Academy.
The Appalachian ChalleNGe Academy will be welcoming its first round of students on July 8, though they are still looking for more applicants.
The program is aimed at helping students between the ages of 16 and 18 who have dropped out of school, been in trouble with the law, had difficulty in achieving credits, or come from a strained situation. The hope of the academy is to reach students that could be under the risk of an unproductive, unhealthy, and possibly criminal life before they are hindered by bad decisions.
The ChalleNGe program began as a small three-year pilot project in 1993, but has grown to dozens of locations nationwide and has graduated nearly 100,000 students.
Dexter Day, a recruiter, admissions councilor, and program coordinator for the academy in Harlan County, said that many of the people involved in the program have a military or law enforcement back ground and can offer a disciplined and intensive solution to the difficulties of these students. Day has both a military and law enforcement background, being a former marine and a sheriff’s deputy.
“When I was in law enforcement most of the juveniles I dealt with, well I dealt with them as adults, and what we are trying to do is get them to where we don’t have to deal with them as adults,” said Day.
The program is split into different parts with the first two weeks being the most challenging to help determine how committed the students are. According to Day, they currently have 29 students signed up, but are looking to have around 200 applicants since they know the first two weeks will inevitably be too difficult for some of them. He said they hope to have a total of 100 students.
For those students that make it past the first two weeks, Day said that the rewards can be great. Statistics show that 95 percent of graduates enter the work force and 91 percent of those students who had previously dropped out, or been on track to drop out, go on to receive a high school diploma or GED.
Students have the opportunity to work on job skills while working on high school courses through a vocational program at the academy.
“It is an excellent program. They teach them everything from hygiene to how to sit at a table to how to eat properly, plus we are going to have vocational training so we will have job skills,” Day explained. “I believe we have the local college in Harlan, they are going to be volunteering to offer some college credit to some of these kids.”
The Appalachian ChalleNGe Academy and other Youth ChalleNGe Academies can offer students help in joining the military, which, according to Day, is one of the most popular goals. They allow students to take the ASFAB, which is the entrance test for the armed forces.
Among all of their other services, the Appalachian ChalleNGe Academy is one of only two academies that is able to help current high school aged students catch up on credits so they can rejoin their class and graduate on time.
The program is open to any student, male or female, and both will be housed at the academy in Harlan for 22 weeks.
During their stay, around $14,000 is spent per student, while there is no cost to the parents. National statistics have shown that by putting students through the program they will actually save the tax payers around $2.70 per dollar spent in potential juvenile and adult court and jail costs.
Day said that he is getting referrals from several different places, but is also looking for students and parents that want to voluntarily apply.
“I will get referrals from courts, from the schools, and as I go around I will actively pursue them,” said Day.
After the 22-week program is over, students are not just set out into the world without a safety net. Day said they understand that some may still struggle. Students are set up with a mentor to help them through the year after they graduate.
If you or someone you know would be interested in joining the Appalachian ChalleNGe Academy, Day can be reached at (606) 273-8044 or by email at DDay1968@gmail.com.