Attorney General Rob McKenna ‘very impressed by Washington Youth Academy’

Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna gives a speech to the first-ever cadet class at the Washington Youth Academy during a tour of the facility May 1. - Steven DeDual/staff photo
Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna gives a speech to the first-ever cadet class at the Washington Youth Academy during a tour of the facility May 1.
— image credit: Steven DeDual/staff photo

Rob McKenna, Washington’s attorney general, visited the Washington Youth Academy (WYA), the state’s first and only youth academy, May 1 to tour the new facility and meet the first group of cadets to go through the program.

“I am very impressed by WYA,” he said. “Like similar programs around the nation, the academy promises a new start and fresh direction for the cadets, all of whom have faced real challenges in their young lives.”

The academy’s mission, according to its Web site, is “to provide a highly disciplined, safe, and professional learning environment that empowers at-risk youth to improve their educational level and employment potential and become responsible and productive citizens of the State of Washington.”

The at-risk youth described in their mission statement are 16-19-year-olds “who are current high school dropouts or expellees,” according to Larry A. Pierce, deputy director of the academy.

WYA is part of the National Guard’s Youth ChalleNGe (NGYC) program, which was designed to “intervene in and reclaim the lives of at-risk youth to produce program graduates with the values, skills, education and self-discipline necessary to succeed as adults.”

The NGYC program was originally authorized by Congress in the 1993 Defense Authorization Bill as a pilot program. The original agreements allowed 10 selected states to identify a targeted number of diverse at-risk youth and to conduct a 17-month program. By 1995, 15 states were participating in the program and currently there are 34 ChalleNGe programs in 29 states and Puerto Rico.

The program is broken up into three phases, Pierce said.

“The first two weeks of the program is called the pre-challenge phase,” he said. “During this phase, the candidate’s potential for completion of the program is determined. They must learn to adjust to the quasi-military discipline of the program. We focus on leadership, teamwork, code of conduct and physical fitness training.”

The next phase, according to Pierce, is a 20-week residential phase that helps cadets make lifestyle changes through education, training and community service. The emphasis is on self-discipline, self-esteem, education and development of healthy lifestyles. Cadets are matched with a caring, adult, volunteer mentor from their home community who works to support and encourage their development.

During the third phase, cadets return to their communities. Graduates continue to build upon their relationship with their established mentor who serves as a positive role model for the next 12 months and beyond.

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, 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.

Overall, McKenna said he liked what he saw on the tour. He added that Washington’s future may depend on programs like the academy.

“Our state’s future depends on our young people,” he said. “Programs like the academy which rescue and develop the potential of troubled teenagers immeasurably brighten that future.”

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