WA Youth Academy graduates take step toward productivity

Three Washington Youth Academy graduating cadets are sworn into the Washington National Guard by Maj. Gen. Lowenberg and 1st Sgt. McQuillan as Gov. Chris Gregoire looks on. - Steven DeDual/staff photo
Three Washington Youth Academy graduating cadets are sworn into the Washington National Guard by Maj. Gen. Lowenberg and 1st Sgt. McQuillan as Gov. Chris Gregoire looks on.
— image credit: Steven DeDual/staff photo

The 83 first-ever cadets of the Washington Youth Academy have proven to themselves they can succeed in any system, no matter how monotonous it might be.

“Jail,” Kekoa Pakele said when asked where he thought he would be had it not been for the academy.

The 22-week course, which includes a two-week Pre-Challenge Phase and a 20-week Residential Phase, is part of the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe program and culminated with a graduation ceremony June 27 at Bremerton High School.

To be eligible for the program one must be 16 to 19 years of age (at the time of entry into and graduation from the program), a high school dropout, expellee or at risk of dropping out, a citizen or legal resident of the United States and a Washington state resident. A candidate for the program must also be unemployed or underemployed, not currently on parole or probation for other than juvenile status offenses, not awaiting sentencing or under indictment, not charged or convicted of a felony, free from use of alcohol and illegal drugs or substances, and physically and mentally capable to participate in the program with reasonable accommodation.

Guest speaker Gov. Chris Gregoire spoke of her less-than-fortunate childhood and how her mother stressed education as a means of escaping poverty. She also spoke of second chances and stressed the importance of the Washington Youth Academy and the second chance it provides.

Pakele, a 17-year-old graduate, said he learned respect for others and the discipline helped him take more responsibility for himself and his actions. He said the entire program was tough, but the hardest part was the Pre-Challenge Phase.

“They call it ‘hell week,’” he said. “They just break you in. You wake up at 5 a.m. They make as much noise as they can. They drop you for every little thing you do.”

Pakele said “you earned your uniform” in those first two weeks. Until they did so, they wore sweats. During that phase, those partaking in the program are called candidates. The term cadet is earned with the uniform.

Toni Pakele, Kekoa’s mother, said she can see the transformation in his attitude, outlook and focus. She said he is setting goals for himself now and the communication between them is much better.

“And he thinks about the consequences before he acts,” she said.

The academy also is preparing for the future, which begins July 19 with Class 2009-2.

There had already been 265 applications submitted as of June 30, and 130 students had been accepted at that time, according to Elizabeth Bergmann, outreach and admissions specialist.

“We are still continuing to take applications for the July 19 class and the January 2010 class,” she said.

As for Kekoa’s future, he said it will include summer school, taking the WASL and starting his senior year of high school.

His mother said she can’t plan his future, but she hopes he will opt for more education.

“Would I like to see him go to college? Yes,” she said.

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