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Bremerton strikes gold in Washington Youth Academy

Bremerton School District Superintendent Dr. Bette Hyde (second from left), along with other BSD officials, break ground for the Washington Youth Academy at the Washington Army National Guard Readiness Center in Bremerton. - Photo by Wesley Remmer
Bremerton School District Superintendent Dr. Bette Hyde (second from left), along with other BSD officials, break ground for the Washington Youth Academy at the Washington Army National Guard Readiness Center in Bremerton.
— image credit: Photo by Wesley Remmer

By WESLEY REMMER

Staff writer

Gov. Chris Gregoire, Congressman Norm Dicks and a host of other state and local leaders dug in with golden shovels on March 8, breaking ground for the Washington Youth Academy at the Washington Army National Guard Readiness Center in Bremerton.

“It’s very exciting,” said Washington Youth Academy director Bill Pettit, who was selected in October 2007 to run the academy. “It’s great to see a hole in the ground finally.”

Pettit will oversee the process of hiring employees, reviewing applications and interviewing potential students as construction of the academy continues.

“It looks like we’re running on time,” Pettit said, adding that the academy is scheduled to open in January 2009.

The academy is part of the National Guard Youth Challenge Program, a nationwide co-educational program which strives to educate, discipline and right the lives of at-risk teens. It is the first in the state.

There are 34 such programs in 29 other states across the country and each has been highly successful, using preventive rather than remedial approaches toward educating.

“They have turned their lives around,” Dicks said of the program’s graduates, explaining to the crowd that other academies have been highly successful.

Approximately 77,000 students have successfully completed the Youth Challenge Program, which began in 1993 as a federal-state partnership, said Dicks, who believes Bremerton also will see positive results.

“These are kids that there’s still real hope for,” he said.

Gov. Gregoire echoed Congressman Dick’s sentiments.

“Success has occurred in other academies,” she explained. “The record of success is nothing short of amazing.”

Gregoire praised Bremerton officials for being open, generous and cooperative throughout the entire planning process.

“The arms of this community flew right open,” Gregoire said. “I have no doubt this is the right place to be.”

The academy received approximately $5 million in funding from the state to begin construction. And 40 percent of its annual operating costs will be covered by the state, with the remaining 60 percent coming from federal government.

“I think this is a great investment of taxpayer money,” Dicks said, adding that the academy, which is estimated to cost $3.2 million per year to maintain, will keep at-risk teens out of the criminal justice system and consequently save money.

“If they end up in jail, it’s a huge cost,” Dicks said.

And while the academy brings a financial upside, Dicks and Gregoire emphasized the academy’s ultimate goal: to help troubled teens get their lives back on track.

“Today, in my opinion, is all about second chances,” Gregoire said. “They (the students) will be given that chance to get their lives together ... they just need someone who believes in them.”

To be eligible for enrollment a student must be a high school dropout or expellee, between the ages of 16 and 19, a resident of Washington state and free of felony convictions and pending legal activity.

The program consists of three phases — pre-challenge, challenge and post-residential — totaling 17 months.

The Pre-Challenge phase is a two-week trial identifying which students are committed to the program, while the Challenge phase lasts 20 weeks and is the meat of the program.

“The academy will provide the discipline and safety these children need,” Gregoire said. “They either get it together, or they end up in our criminal justice system.”

Graduates are assigned a mentor as part of the Post-Residential phase, receiving guidance for an additional 12 months upon leaving the academy.

Pettit said applications for enrollment will be accepted beginning mid-summer and applicants will be interviewed in September and October.

The Academy will run two class cycles per year — one beginning in January 2009 and another in mid-July 2009. 100 males and 50 females will be enrolled in each class cycle, Pettit said.

And now that construction is officially under way, Pettit said he is excited for the challenges and rewards ahead.

“I wanna say to Bill (Pettit), ‘Go get’em’,” Dicks said.

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