By Lou Ann
M. Mittelstaedt, The
Real McCoy Staff
10-year history and success of the Wisconsin National Guard’s
ChalleNGe Academy at Fort McCoy was celebrated with a ceremony, tours,
and a luncheon Aug. 27.
Mark Aumann of Wisconsin Rep. Ron
Kind’s office, Wisconsin Army National Guard Adjutant General
Brig. Gen. Donald P. Dunbar, and State Sen. Kathleen Vinehout
listen to guest speakers during the ChalleNGe Academy’s 10th
anniversary ceremony. (Photo
contributed by Wisconsin National Guard ChalleNGe Academy)
Academy Director M.G. MacLaren said Wisconsin joined the Challenge
movement in 1998 under the leadership of Governor Tommy Thompson, Maj.
Gen. James Blaney, State Senator Rod Moen, and Representative Terry
Academy opened its doors at Fort McCoy in September 1998, with the
first class starting Sept. 18.
our beginning, the academy has graduated 1,620 cadets, with 1,401 of
them earning their High School Equivalency Diploma, and all of them
leaving our academy with life prospects better than when they
arrived," MacLaren said.
people with ties to the academy participated as speakers at the
Holub graduated from the academy in June 2002. He is now married, the
father of two, and a successful, respected employee at his job.
I came to the academy, I was clearly headed for trouble — using
drugs, skipping school, failing classes," Holub said. "The
irony is, I am capable and had every opportunity when it came to
school and succeeding. But I made choices not to engage in my
"Since our beginning, the academy has graduated 1,620
cadets, with 1,401 of them earning their High School Equivalency
Diploma, and all of the m leaving our academy with life
prospects better than when they arrived."
ChalleNGe Academy Director
he was presented with the opportunity to attend the academy, he said
he looked at it as a shortcut to finishing high school. "Lo and
behold, the first day of intake here was the worst day of my life, or
so I thought," he said. "You couldn’t talk. I didn’t
know anyone. I underestimated how physically demanding the program
was." But he persevered, eventually attaining senior cadet
was one of my hardest struggles, but it became my most important
lesson," Holub said. "Being an individual and not a team
member is not an option at this school. At the time I thought it was
stupid, but I’ve been in the real world for a while now, and I know
that if I had not learned this very important tool, I know I would be
headed down that same alley I was headed before I came to the academy.
I realized my actions don’t affect just me, they affect everyone in
ChalleNGe Academy helped me see the potential in me," he said.
"For the last six years I have worked for the world’s largest
and fastest-growing lawn-care company as a sales representative."
For the last four years, he has been one of their top-50 salespeople
wouldn’t be the good father, or good husband, or family man I am if
I had not come to this program," he said. "I hope that we,
as citizens, can keep helping young people get back on track with
their lives, like I did. I greatly appreciate the opportunity."
The Wisconsin National Guard ChalleNGe Academy is a 17-month
program for at-risk youth ages 16 years 9 months through 18.
Academy cadets complete a 22-week residential phase during which
the cadets can earn their High School Equivalency Diploma and
change their outlooks and viewpoints on life and character.
22-week residential phase cadets learn to put together a
Post-Residential Action Plan with the help of staff members
assigned to each cadet.
This plan will
give them a road map for their future. Following the residential
phase, each cadet participates in a 12-month post-residential
phase where the cadets go on to jobs, post-secondary education,
or military service. During the post-residential phase the
cadets meet regularly with their adult mentors and work to put
into action the values and concepts learned during their 22-week
Cadets come from
all socioeconomic groups and all backgrounds, but all must be
at-risk of not graduating from high school as defined by the
State of Wisconsin. Usually, cadets are high school dropouts,
habitual truants, expelled students, or students critically
deficient in credits. Cadets must be free of drugs, mentally and
physically healthy, not on probation and not be awaiting
sentencing, be convicted of, or have charges pending for a
National Guard‘s Youth ChalleNGe Program began in 1991, when
the House Joint Armed Service Committee tasked the National
Guard to develop a plan to help at-risk teens and "add
value to America." By providing values, skills, education,
and discipline to young people using the structure and esprit de
corps of the military model, the Youth ChalleNGe Program began a
three-year pilot program in 1993.
participated in the pilot program, which became a permanent
National Guard program in 1996.
Wisconsin became one of 26 states to offer a 22-week, National
Guard-sponsored ChalleNGe Program designed specifically for high
school dropouts and habitual truants between the ages of 16
years 9 months and 18 years of age.
Academy admits qualifying young men and women to a 17-month long
program of life-changing experiences.
(From the Wisconsin National
Guard ChalleNGe Academy Web site. For more information, visit http://www.challengeacademy.org.)
the perspective of a parent of a child whose life was changed by the
academy was Sue Rustebakke. Rustebakke’s teenage son, Adam, had made
was a smart, personable kid — a little stubborn, but he had such
great potential," she said. "We did counseling, conferences,
anger management classes — just about everything we could think of
— and nothing seemed to have an impact," she said. "He’d
given up on school. Life at home was horrible. He was headed for jail,
drug use, and a dead-end low-paying job, if he could find one at all.
These were some really dark times for me and my family."
said her son applied for admission to the academy at the end of 2001.
By the time he was to start with "Class 9" in July 2002,
there was another challenge. The fate of the academy hung in the
balance of budget and funding issues.
you to all of you who were instrumental in keeping the program going
at that time," she said. "I am one of over a thousand
families who has benefitted from the program since that point in
Rustebakke graduated as the class Military Honor Graduate, and now is
a Solider in the U.S. Army. He has served honorably in the Army for
the last five years, and currently is assigned as an aviation mechanic
at Hunter Army Airfield in Georgia.
said Sue Rustebakke continues to be a dedicated supporter of the
ChalleNGe idea. "She has been instrumental in leading the effort
to form a nonprofit organization for the ChalleNGe Academy, and
unselfishly donates huge amounts of time to support parents and cadets
of each class at key events such as Reception Day, Family Day and
Commencement," he said.
Harrison graduated with Class 8. She
is a disabled Army veteran who currently cares for people with
Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. In addition to her work,
she is attending college full-time with the goal of becoming a social
worker. She has come full-circle with the ChalleNGe program by serving
as a mentor to a cadet in Class 18, and regularly contributes to the
academy-sponsored message board to assist prospective cadets and their
Gen. Donald P. Dunbar, adjutant general for the Wisconsin National
Guard, said he was humbled by the stories he was hearing about the
hard work and successes of the academy’s 10 years.
said Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York is credited with
coining the phrase "defining deviancy down" — meaning when
things get so bad in society, society lowers the standards so it doesn’t
look so bad, so that what once was abnormal becomes normal and is
few years later, reflecting on Senator Moynihan’s proposition,
Charles Krauthammer, a noted columnist in our country, said that
America’s heritage was not only to define deviancy down, but, when
we put our minds to it, to define deviancy up, and that we could
choose, very often in our society, to raise the standard and insist on
standards that made things better in our society," Dunbar said.
ChalleNGe Academy is just one way to do something about it," he
said, adding that he is so grateful to the predecessors who have
accomplished much to ensure the program’s success. "I just
stand back and cheer that these young kids, who are going through
difficult times, get an opportunity," Dunbar said. "But
there is only one way to get out of this academy, and that is to meet
don’t define deviancy down in Wisconsin," Dunbar said. "We
define deviancy up. We take kids who are struggling, and we give them
things to believe in. We give them guidance to move them forward in
life. We create productive citizens, or they don’t leave here or
graduate. It’s just that simple."
Kathleen Vinehout of Wisconsin’s 31st Senate District said she was
honored to help the award-winning, highly successful academy celebrate
its first 10 years and to look to the future.
academy receives 60 percent of its funding from federal sources and 40
percent from the state.
state is facing a huge budget challenge, just as the students here are
facing an incredible challenge," Vinehout said. In 2002, state
funds for the ChalleNGe program were placed under the Department of
Public Instruction so they would be protected, she said.
pledged to work with Congressman Ron Kind and Senators Herb Kohl and
Russ Feingold to do whatever is possible to ensure continued funding
of "this highly successful investment that our state and federal
government has made."
said the program, which claims a 77 percent graduation rate, is one of
the most successful programs in the country at targeting the problems
of at-risk youth. It is cost effective as well, she said, adding that
four students can attend ChalleNGe for the cost of processing one teen
through the juvenile justice system.
you (students) struggle to get through this, know that the advantages
you gained here in this program are not only yours, they’re not only
your family’s, but they are the future of all students who are going
to come to the academy," Vinehout said.
closed the ceremony by recognizing and thanking the many individuals,
organizations and corporations that have had roles in bringing the
academy to where it is today.