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October 14, 2011


Wisconsin National Guard Challenge Academy

(Editor’s note: This is the third Fort McCoy “SPOTLIGHT,” a series about tenant activities at Fort McCoy and their missions.)

What is it?
The Wisconsin National Guard Challenge Academy is a 17-month program for youth who are between the ages of 16 years, 9 months and up to 19 years old who are at risk of not graduating high school. The program offers youth the opportunity to develop the strength of character and life skills necessary to become successful, responsible citizens.
PHOTO: Wisconsin National Guard Challenge Academy cadets participate in an academic class at Fort McCoy. Photo by Geneve N. Mankel
Cadets enrolled in the Wisconsin National Guard Challenge Academy participate in an academic class at Fort McCoy. Academic excellence is one of eight core components of the program. (Photo by Geneve N. Mankel)

The Challenge Academy is part of the National Guard’s Youth Challenge Program, which began in 1993 in 10 states. The Wisconsin Challenge Academy was established in 1998 and became a tenant activity at Fort McCoy the same year.

Challenge Academy cadets spend 22 weeks at Fort McCoy for the residential phase of the program. During this phase cadets complete curriculum based on the eight core components of the program — academic excellence, job skills, physical fitness, leadership/fellowship, health and hygiene, life-coping skills, citizenship and service to the community.

Following the residential training, cadets work with mentors of their choosing in their hometown. Mentors can be any unrelated adult, for example teachers, counselors, and law-enforcement personnel, etc., who can provide guidance to the teen. Counselors from the Challenge Academy continue to provide support and guidance to the cadet and mentor during the post-residential phase.

What have they done?
The Challenge Academy is conducting its 27th class cycle. To date, 2,249 cadets have graduated from the academy.

During each of the academy’s two yearly cycles, upwards of 170 cadets participate in the program, with an average of 100 graduating. On average, nearly nine out of 10 graduates will earn their high school equivalency diploma while in residence at the Challenge Academy.

What do they have planned?
The next class cycle begins in January 2012.

During its second 10 years at Fort McCoy the Challenge Academy will work to improve upon its successes from its first 10 years and work to continue to provide a successful intervention program for at-risk youth in Wisconsin. The program also hopes to have new facilities built at Fort McCoy before its 20-year anniversary.

Why important?
With over 85,000 high school truants and dropouts in Wisconsin, the Challenge Academy intervenes before these youth commit to a life of crime or drug abuse. The program is not a rehabilitation program; applicants must be free of drugs, be mentally and physically healthy, not be on probation or parole and not be awaiting sentencing, be convicted of, or have charges pending for a felony. The Academy helps youth out of situations that would prevent them from completing high school and helps them grow and earn self-confidence and discipline.

At Fort McCoy the cadets fulfill the service-to-community core component by filling sand bags for use in military training and providing grounds, trail and building improvements. In the surrounding communities the cadets also participate in Adopt a Highway, visit veterans at the VA hospital in Tomah, tutor children in the Sparta school district, assist with the Tomah and Sparta Boys & Girls Clubs, and volunteer with the Special Olympics.

Applications and information about the program are available by calling the Challenge Academy at 608-388-7471 or visiting the website www.ChallengeAcademy.org.

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