High School Dropouts Gain Second Chance Through National Guard Program
This summer, in 23 states around the country, thousands of high school dropouts heard the screams of drill sergeants, donned PT outfits and lived the Spartan life in barracks as part of the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program, a voluntary intervention program aimed at getting dropouts back on track through education, physical fitness, volunteerism and life skills training.
With about one in three students dropping out of high school each year, the program reaches out to nearly 7,000 dropouts per year nationwide with a cost-free alternative to a life of crime, gangs, physical abuse, unwanted pregnancy and other consequences facing high school dropouts.
The National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program is a 17-month, co- ed program for high school dropouts aged 16-18. Program participants are offered the opportunity to enhance their life skills, earn their GED, pursue higher education, improve their employment potential and broaden their chances at success.
Pre-ChalleNGe is the initial and most restrictive two weeks in the 17-month program. Applicants give up their independent lives to live under the ChalleNGe rules: wake before dawn, speak when spoken to and lose the attitude.
The two weeks give the applicants the opportunity to adjust to the program’s physical, mental and social discipline and focus on teamwork, close order drill, code of conduct, leadership and physical fitness.
Applicants can leave at any time, but those who successfully complete this phase will earn the distinction of becoming full- fledged corps members.
After Pre-ChalleNGe, cadets continue the remaining 20 weeks of the program’s Residential Phase, an endeavor that many of the teens feel is their last chance at having a better life. At the end of the 22 weeks, most of the students go on to earn their GED, return to school, enter the workforce, begin college or join the military.
During the year after the Residential Phase, mentors guide the students through a “life plan” they drafted at the program. Students in Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming will begin the program in their states this month.
The program conducts two cycles of classes per year. The classes that began this summer will conclude in December and the next cycle will begin in January. Other programs that make up the 30 sites nationwide operate on a similar rolling schedule.