PIERCE, Idaho -- Dozens of Idaho teenagers are taking advantage of a brand new second chance to get back on track in school and get their lives headed in the right direction. They are the first class of the National Guard's Idaho Youth Challenge Academy.
The academy opened in January in the town of Pierce, Idaho about a 2-hour drive east of Lewiston.
In November, KTVB went there to learn about the academy's mission and methods. We recently went back to talk to the cadets now that they are well into the program.
The daily schedule for cadets is packed. It includes marching in formation, physical training, going to class, living in barracks and doing community service.
From the time they get up at 5 o'clock in the morning 'til the time they go to sleep at 9 o'clock at night they are constantly moving and constantly going, said Master Sgt. Melissa Brouwers, who is in charge of the female cadets.
Sometimes you just don't want to do what they say, but you have to, said cadet Ellia Gray.
It's all pretty difficult at first, but after awhile you get used to it, said cadet Aleksandar Kekerovic.
For cadets like Gray of Meridian and Kekerovic of Twin Falls, the Idaho Youth Challenge Academy represents a second chance at school and at life.
I was not doing very good in school, said Gray. I just like didn't want to go to school. I would make excuses.
I had drug problems before I was over here, said Kekerovic. I dropped out of school a few years back and just dealing with drugs. I was part of a gang and stuff.
They are two of the 79 cadets remaining in the academy's first-ever class. There are 65 boys and 14 girls. 20 others did not make it this far.
I can just see a huge difference in these young men and women, said Idaho National Guard Major General Gary Sayler. Kids that came here that were wanting to leave, now are wanting to stay.
Those teenagers who stayed are now more than halfway through the five-and-a-half month program.
The academy is free for boys and girls between 16 and 18 years old who have dropped out of school or are at risk of dropping out. While not a military school, the structure is definitely military in nature. It's about respect.
The first couple weeks they bang on the door and demand to speak to the director, said program director Derek Newland. Now they'll knock three times and request permission to enter, and there's yes sirs, no sirs, yes ma'ams and no ma'ams, and we give them the same courtesies back.
Gray said she believes that is a lesson that will stick.
I definitely will be more respectful and more grateful than I was when I was at home, she said.
But it's mostly about academics. The goal is to give the cadets an opportunity to make up credits and rejoin their high school classes, or work toward their GED.
Seeing kids with ribbons that have been awarded for academic excellence, it's just so satisfying, said Sayler.
Gray and Kekerovic appear to be making the most of the program, both mentally and physically.
Getting good grades actually, and being pushed to do PT every day because you don't have a choice, said Gray.
Kekerovic has lost 50 pounds.
And still losing lots of weight, he said. I love it. I've learned a lot here.
Now, maybe for the first time, they're looking forward.
Gray wants to go to cosmetology school and someday have her own beauty shop. She knows she's more confident.
Most definitely I think I'll be a changed person. I already am. I'm in front of a camera now, (she was being interviewed on camera by KTVB) so I think I'm changed already.
Kekerovic has goals for later-- and now.
To be successful in life. I want to join the military when I get out of here, said Kekerovic. I'm thinking about the Air Force, maybe. I'm not sure yet. To be successful. To be a good kid.
The saying goes: Everyone deserves a second chance. That's all some people need. For these cadets, time will tell.
Students choose to go to the Idaho Youth Challenge Academy. It is voluntary and is not a punishment in any way.The first class will graduate in June. The second class will begin in July.
The academy is taking applications now.