New academy aims to give Idaho teenagers a second chance

New academy aims to give Idaho teenagers a second chance

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by Doug Petcash

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KTVB.COM

Posted on November 6, 2013 at 11:21 PM

Updated Thursday, Nov 7 at 4:22 AM

PIERCE, Idaho -- We all make mistakes. And when we do, we wish people will give us a second chance.

A new school that will soon open in Idaho is all about second chances for teenagers who have dropped out of school or are in danger of dropping out.

The Idaho Youth Challenge Academy will welcome its first class ever on January 18.  The academy is now taking student applications. It is in the town of Pierce-- about a two hour drive east of Lewiston. 

NewsChannel 7 traveled to the Northern Idaho town for a first look at the academy's mission and methods. 

At the former Pierce Elementary School on the hill outside of town, the gym is filled with supplies waiting to be put in place, including bunk beds, mattresses and footlockers. The supply room itself holds hundreds of uniforms, pairs or socks and boots, underwear, snowshoes and equipment for physical training. 

Administrators, teachers, counselors and staff are working hard and fast to be ready when the first class of students arrives from all over the state.    

"To see it get this close now; to see those first kids show up, I'm just very excited," said Major General Gary Sayler of the Idaho National Guard. 

The Idaho Youth Challenge Academy is part of the National Guard Youth Challenge Program. There are academies in 27 states.

While not a military school, the structure is definitely military in nature. The students will be called cadets, they will march, they will do physical training, they will have strict wake up and lights out times and they will stay in barracks.

"They'll be getting periods of instruction in here when it comes to drill and how to stand at positions of attention and things of that nature," said Cadre Team Leader Guy Bonner.

They will be led by staff members called cadre. The cadre teams are basically coaches who will guide the cadets through the military structure of the academy.

The program is free for boys and girls from 16- and 18-years-old who have dropped out of school or at risk of dropping out.

According to the Idaho Department of Education, 1,593 Idaho 9-12 graders dropped out in the 2011-2012 school year, and 1,298 dropped out the prior year.

Students from across Idaho who are looking for a second chance can choose to come here. It is voluntary.        

"This is a program for kids who really know that something just isn't working," said Deputy Director Amy Steinhilber. "Something's not right and they need to turn things around."

The cadets will live on site for five and a half months.

"It gets them all here on an even keel, an even basis to work on their academics and work on themselves for five and a half months," said Program Director Derek Newland. 

That is followed by a 12-month mentoring phase back home.

The program focuses on eight core components, including life coping skills, service to the community and academic excellence.

The cadets have a chance to make up credits and rejoin their high school classes, or work toward their GED. 

"What we're hoping to do is fill the gaps in an education and send back to those schools a different student that will be successful in their halls," said Academy Principal Bicker Therien.

The academy has enough beds to accommodate 146 students. The goal for this first class starting in January is about 100 students. 

While it is a quasi-military academy, it is also important to note what the school is not. 

"We are not a juvenile detention center. We're not a bootcamp," said Steinhilber. "And we're not a clinic for rehab."  

"This is not a program for young men and women who are in trouble with the law," said Sayler.  

They say it is an investment in young people who want to make an investment in themselves.

Sayler has been involved since the academy was only an idea about seven years ago. He is ready for it to start putting some young lives back on the right path. 

"Rather than become dropouts and a drain on our society, but make them productive members of our society," said Sayler. "They need that chance. They need that opportunity." 

General Sayler says, so far, no state tax money has gone into starting up the academy. It has been all federal money, plus foundation gifts and donations. Once school starts, 75 percent of the money will come from the federal government, and 25 percent from state coffers and philanthropic support. 

The academy will host two classes every year, starting in January and July.

If you want to learn more about the Idaho Youth Challenge Academy, there is an information session in Meridian.

It starts at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday November 7 at the Meridian Holiday Inn Express. That's just off the Eagle Road exit of I-84.

You can also get more information by clicking here.

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