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Giving students a much-needed second chance

By WESLEY REMMER

Staff writer

Starting today the city of Bremerton, Kitsap County and all of Washington state are redirecting at-risk teens away from dead-end roads and real-life speed bumps, into the fast-lane for a bright future through a new venue.

Groundbreaking for the Washington Youth Academy — a state-run campus designed to empower, educate and encourage high school students who have strayed off the path toward success — will take place at 11 a.m. today.

“I think we’re all excited about this because it provides another resource to help kids,” said Dr. DeWayne Boyd, a member of the Bremerton School Board. “It’s a whole new experience for us.”

The Washington Youth Academy, which officially opens in January 2009 and will house 150 Washington state high school students between the ages of 16 and 19, was funded by $5 million in seed money from the state.

“(The state) showed a tremendous amount of commitment,” said Bill Pettit, Washington Youth Academy director and a former colonel in the Texas Air National Guard. “I’ve never seen a state step up with $5 million in seed money.”

Rep. Christine Rolfes, (D-Bainbridge Island), said she is pleased that Bremerton was selected as the academy’s location.

“It’s an honor to have Bremerton and our county selected as the home of this academy,” Rolfes said. “It’s a natural outgrowth of an educational and training model that has been effective in other places. It will give hope and opportunity to families and kids who can best benefit from it.”

Fellow 23rd District Rep. Sherry Appleton (D-Poulsbo) echoed Rolfes’ praise for the academy.

“This innovative academy is a boon for Bremerton, for Washington, and for families and young people throughout the state,” Appleton said. “Every success story, and there will be many in the coming years, will affect countless lives.”

Being involved in the project as a state legislator was particularly satisfying, Appleton said.

“It was a privilege for me as a state legislator to have been able to help the Washington Military Department receive the necessary funding to make the academy a reality,” Appleton said.

Pettit said the live-in campus, located at the Washington Army National Guard Readiness Center in West Bremerton, will incorporate a brand new 17,000 square-foot dormitory building, remodeled classrooms and additional renovations, providing students a stable 24-hour learning environment.

“I’ve always enjoyed kids programs,” said Pettit, who expects the program will be effective starting Day One. “My goal is to graduate between 115 and 130 students.”

The Washington Youth Academy is part of the National Guard’s Youth Challenge Program!, which has facilities in 34 states across the country.

“We’ve had success,” Pettit said, adding that each student will meet with a mentor once a month, outside campus, after graduating the program.

“We want to make sure there are no relapses, and that the kids continue with their life plan,” he said.

Students must be high school drop-outs, drug-free and unemployed to be eligible for enrollment.

“Hopefully there will be some parents out there who will be at wits end and encourage their children to apply,” Boyd said of the program, which will begin accepting applications in May.

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