Submitted by: The Washington Youth Academy
Bellingham teen Benjamin Miller said he was nervous when he enrolled in the Washington Youth Academy, a free quasi-military school in Bremerton geared at helping students recover credits and graduate from high school on time. In the end, he says the Academy taught him life lessons.
“The Academy has brought forth the admission hiding inside of me and all my brothers and sisters, my newfound family,” Miller said. “The Washington Youth Academy was not just a program, It was a choice that I made and all my brothers and sisters made, a choice to improve ourselves and when we talk about improvement, it’s not just on the outside, but on the inside.”
Miller, who will now go back to Squalicum High School to finish his degree, was one of six teens from Whatcom County to graduate from the Washington Youth Academy on Dec. 17, which included the Academy’s 2000th cadet to complete the program. He was chosen from his platoon to give a speech at graduation, now on YouTube. The 2016-2 cycle saw 149 cadets graduate.
Cadets from each corner of the state attend the free residential school geared at teaching teens discipline and helping them recover credits so they can go back to high school and earn a diploma or seek an alternative path to finish their high school education, such as a GED or by joining Running Start. The Washington Youth Academy is a division of the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program.
The other Whatcom cadets were Lizeth Garcia Leon of Everson, who goes back to Nooksack Valley High School; Kristian Arriaga, who goes back to Squalicum High School; Kayla Townley of Blaine, who goes back to Blaine High School; Eros Gonzalez of Lynden, who goes back to Lynden High School; and Jose Aguilar-Estrada of Ferndale, who goes back to Ferndale High School.
“This is the start, not the end,” Major General Bret Daugherty, the state’s adjutant general and commander of the Washington National Guard, told the cadets during commencement. “Not only have you made a commitment to improve your own lives, you have completed Community Emergency Response Team training while you were here at the Youth Academy. You came here focused on getting your own lives back on track, but leave here able to help and serve others. That is a huge change in your life and we’re very proud of you for that.”
With a graduation rate of 90.1 percent, Youth Academy Director Larry Pierce says the Class of 2016-2 had the best percentage to graduate from any class to date. Cadets can earn up to 8 credits – almost a year and a half of high school – in just 22 weeks. For 2016-2, the average number of credits earned was 7.8.
Cadets also completed 8,181 hours of community service helping to clean a Sept. 11, 2001 memorial, tending to park trails, tutoring youth and donating blood to the Red Cross.
“They’ve learned a lot of new things that have increased and bolstered their confidence, discipline and teamwork,” Pierce says. “And, of course, our cadets invest a significant amount of time, energy, effort and a wide range of emotion in the daily life of the Academy. It’s not easy and sometimes just coping with the challenges and the stress is taxing enough, but the cadets overcame these challenges.”
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. 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.
New classes start in January 2017 with a second class slated for July 2017. Learn more about the program online at http://mil.wa.gov/youth-academy. Hear from the cadets and our commencement speakers, including Gov. Jay Inslee and Secretary of State Kim Wyman on our YouTube Channel.