Whatcom County Students Recognized at Washington Youth Academy Commencement Ceremony

Washington Youth Academy
Kailey Gee of Birch Bay shares a smile with Washington Youth Academy Director Larry Pierce during the commencement celebration.


Submitted by Washington Youth Academy

Washington Youth Academy
Cadet Gutierrez of Bellingham shakes the hand of Washington Youth Academy Director Larry Pierce during the commencement celebration.

The Washington Youth Academy celebrated the graduation of nine students from the Whatcom area during commencement ceremonies on June 20.

The students who have completed the program include Bellingham teens Cesar Gutierrez, Miguel Miranda, Dahrius Smith, Ashley Santiago-Flores and Jeremy Smith, as well as Kailey Gee of Birch Bay and Chase Marcoff and Yesenia Nunez, both of Lynden, and Conner Ledet of Sumas. These students were among 140 graduates, the second largest graduation class since the Academy was established in 2009. The students will all return to high school to get their diploma, some enrolling in summer school, or seek an alternative path to finish their high school education, such as a GED or by joining Running Start.

The mission of the Washington Youth Academy is to provide a highly disciplined, safe and professional learning environment that empowers at-risk youth to improve their educational levels and employment potential and become responsible and productive citizens of the State of Washington. The Washington Youth Academy is a division of the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program. Established under authority of both federal and state law, the WYA is a state-run residential and post-residential intervention program for youth who have dropped out of high school or are at risk of dropping out. The free program places cadets in a 22-week intensive residential phase. For the following year, the youth receives intense mentoring and placement follow-up. The school is in Bremerton, but anyone from around the state can apply.

Students can earn up to 8 credits. The average number of credits eared by cadets who completed the program this cycle was 7.9 – achieving a 98.5 percent credit retrieval rate. Comparatively, a full year at a high school is 6 credits. That means students earned more than a year’s worth of credits in just 22 weeks.

Washington Youth Aacademy
Ashley Santiago-Flores stands at attention, holding the banner for the Third Platoon at the Washington Youth Academy.

Graduating cadets had an average GPA for Academy courses of 3.6, which is a high B+. As a comparison, 52 of the graduating cadets had a grade point average less than a D before coming to the Academy.

Only 14 of the cadets who entered the program had enough credits to be classified as seniors. After commencement, 92 graduates of the program have the credits needed to be classified as seniors.

Students volunteered 7,809 hours of community service to the local community, valued at $67,000, according to Washington Youth Academy Director Larry Pierce. Service projects consisted of everything from restoring a Sept. 11 Memorial to landscaping and event support.

Each cadet was also trained to be part of a Community Emergency Response Team, the first time all of the cadets in a class received the disaster management training.

“We had 140 cadets of diverse backgrounds and situations come together to become one cohesive unit,” Pierce said. “They overcame obstacles and shared both dreams and setbacks, as well. They shared laughter and tears, but they changed together and they prevailed together.”

More than 1,500 students have gone through the program since its inception.

For more information, visit http://mil.wa.gov/youth-academy.

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