LANSING, Mich. — Last weekend marked the beginning of Class 32 at the Michigan Youth ChalleNGe Academy in Battle Creek. The academy is a residential program for high school dropouts, or youth at risk for dropout, between the ages of 16-18 who are ready to change the direction of their lives in a positive way. The first few weeks of hair-cuts, physical training, wearing uniforms, and rigid structure are always tough. Still, MYCA is one of the top performing ChalleNGe programs in the nation for diplomas earned.
The program runs 22 weeks from start to finish. It is located on the grounds of the VA Medical Center in Battle Creek and operates with a charter and support from Marshall Public Schools. Funding for the program is provided by state appropriation and contributions from the National Guard Youth Foundation. There is no cost to the student to participate in the program but a community sponsor and an initial interview are required.
New student Jordan Keigley of Holland, has been in the juvenile justice system for the last year and is ready to make some changes. “I don’t intend to join the military but I am ready to apply myself to the program and become an all-around better person,” Keigley said. His mother, Rachael Pierson, said, “I am not expecting miracles. I would just like to see him grow up and find out who he really is and gain maturity and discipline.”
Victoria Bell of Kalamazoo, whose son is a member of Class 32, said, “I know he (Amontray Bell) has got this. I know it will be hard but he will do well, he has to.” Through tears, Victoria maintained a hopeful smile, believing in the program and a better future for her son.
The Youth ChalleNGe program, a CBS Nightly News feature last October, is a quasi-military academy that emphasizes personal responsibility, academic structure, athletic training, and community service. At-risk students, referred to as cadets, often come to the academy with poor grades and dismal attitudes. Some have had attendance problems, behavioral issues or other circumstances that hinder high school academic and social performance. When they arrive at MYCA the rules and program structure are laid out without question. The cadets’ agendas are set and their physical, social and academic performance is measured. Though the program is highly structured, MYCA staff reinforce positivity and self-confidence in every way possible.
“Encouragement is a critical factor to student success,” said Jimmie Jones, the academy’s communications director. “It doesn’t need to be sappy or overly emotional, but the kids need to believe that they control the direction of their future,” he added. “Parents who heard Mr. Drake speak during Class 32 orientation know exactly what I am talking about. He has an inspiring way of working with young people that empowers, encourages and empathizes with a sincere heart and true belief in their success. MYCA is blessed to have him on staff.”
More information about MYCA can be found on their web site, www.miycp.org and Facebook page, www.facebook.com/myca.mich or call (800) 372-0523 or email MYCAAdmissions@michigan.gov.
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Story by Sgt. 1st Class Hellen Miller, Michigan National Guard Joint Force Headquarters Public Affairs