At-risk youth get second chance with Discovery Challenge Academy

Discovery Challenge Academy Cadets graduate (December 16, 2017)

Christmas maybe just around the corner, but for a group of cadets at the Discovery Challenge Academy the time to celebrate is now.

Graduation day allowed ABC10's Ariane Datil to see how they plan to put the lessons they’ve learned at the academy to work in the real world. 

Cadets Chanting: “Academy life is crazy. Got me hey – got me – hey – got me missing my baby.”

For the last 22 weeks this has been reality for the cadets of the Discovery Challenge Academy in San Joaquin County. There have been 5 a.m. wake up calls, a full class schedule, group meals, intense PT and, of course, perfectly made beds.

The Discovery Challenge Academy is a five and a half month program for 16-18 year-olds who, who have dropped out of high school, are at-risk of dropping out or are credit deficient and want to get their lives back on track, according to the program's website.

Cadet Austin Herrera’s story is one of personal struggle and determination.

“I actually dropped out of school twice in my senior year. I only had a little bit of credits left and I figured coming here would not only teach me to be very disciplined and learn characteristics and values that other people don’t have or would have but that I lacked a lot," said Herrera. "I figured coming here would [also] help me in schooling."

Herrera was left by his parents when he was 17 years old and he sold drugs to take care of himself, but now he’s a parent and wants to make sure his daughter has someone to look up to.

“I’m doing this for you Gracie,” said Herrera.

The Discovery Academy is just one of over 40 National Guard youth education programs in the country. Their mission to help at risk youth started back in 1993 when congress determined that the dropout rate was a domestic crisis.

To date, 1.2 million people have dropped out of high school. Couple that with the fact that 82 percent of the jail population doesn'’t have a high school diploma and the cadets and their parents are beyond proud to see graduation day.

Each cadet has a story of defeat and triumph - this is Liliana Gonzalez’ story.

“I would get into fights and I would ditch school or I would show up late and my grades were really low. I had a 0.63 GPA and now I have a 4.0," she said.

“Our main focus is education [and] getting these students back on track to graduate high school and lead a path to a productive citizenship," she continued.

Chief Warrant Officer Matthew Reese, the recruiting, placement and mentoring supervision of the program.

There was 126 cadets who graduated from the program and 38 of those students also received their high school diplomas. But the program isn’t over yet.

Over the next year, the academy will be overseeing the graduates and making sure they maintain direction and focus. But right now, it’s time to celebrate this exciting milestone.

© 2018 KXTV-TV


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