Commonwealth ChalleNGe continues changing lives one cadet at a time with Class 43

Members of Class 42 of the Virginia Commonwealth ChalleNGe Youth Academy transition from candidates to cadets during an induction ceremony April 3, 2015, at Camp Pendleton, Va. The cadets completed the two-week long, physically taxing, acclimation phase of the course and are now in the academic phase of the program. Commonwealth ChalleNGe is the Virginia component of the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program, which focuses on preparing teenagers that have dropped out of high school, or are on the verge of dropping out of high school, with skills, discipline and academics to become a productive citizen. (Photo by Master Sgt. A.J. Coyne, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

Members of Class 42 of the Virginia Commonwealth ChalleNGe Youth Academy transition from candidates to cadets during an induction ceremony April 3, 2015, at Camp Pendleton, Va. The cadets completed the two-week long, physically taxing, acclimation phase of the course and are now in the academic phase of the program. Commonwealth ChalleNGe is the Virginia component of the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program, which focuses on preparing teenagers that have dropped out of high school, or are on the verge of dropping out of high school, with skills, discipline and academics to become a productive citizen. (Photo by Master Sgt. A.J. Coyne, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

CAMP PENDLETON, Va. – Cadets in Class 43 of the Virginia Commonwealth ChalleNGe Youth Academy have completed their two-week acclimation phase and are now focused on the academic portion of the program, with their eyes on graduation Aug. 22.

There are currently 117 cadets in the program in two male platoons and one female platoon.

“We’ve got a good opportunity to graduate them all,” said retired Navy Capt. Mark Chicoine, the director of the program. “They’re doing really well so far.”

Virginia Army National Guard rappel masters from the Fort Pickett-based 183rd Regiment, Regional Training Institute supervise rappelling orientation for candidates from Class 43 of the Virginia Commonwealth ChalleNGe Youth Academy March 29, 2015, at Fort Story, Va. (Photo by Master Sgt. A.J. Coyne, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

Virginia Army National Guard rappel masters from the Fort Pickett-based 183rd Regiment, Regional Training Institute supervise rappelling orientation for candidates from Class 43 of the Virginia Commonwealth ChalleNGe Youth Academy March 29, 2015, at Fort Story, Va. (Photo by Master Sgt. A.J. Coyne, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

Commonwealth ChalleNGe is the Virginia component of the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program, which focuses on preparing teenagers that have dropped out of high school, or are on the verge of dropping out of high school, with the skills, discipline and academics to become a productive citizen. After the graduates complete the 20-week, residential period of academics, physical fitness, counseling, life skills, and team building, they will move on to a 12-month, post-residential phase.

Members of Class 43 arrived at Camp Pendleton March 25 and began the acclimation phase, where they were introduced to the daily structure of the program. This period is physically demanding and candidates participated in a leadership reaction course and rappel tower. Rappel masters from the Virginia National Guard’s 183rd Regiment, Regional Training Institute at Fort Pickett led the rappel training at Fort Eustis March 29.

The candidates then transitioned to cadets during an induction ceremony April 3 at Camp Pendleton. Chicoine and Col. Paul F. Griffin, the Virginia National Guard Director of the Joint Staff, were on hand to congratulate and encourage them.

As an alternative education program cadets have the opportunity to prepare for and take the General Educational Development test. During the residential phase, they also prepare for future employment, military or higher education opportunities.

Members of Class 42 of the Virginia Commonwealth ChalleNGe Youth Academy transition from candidates to cadets during an induction ceremony April 3, 2015, at Camp Pendleton, Va. (Photo by Master Sgt. A.J. Coyne, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

Members of Class 42 of the Virginia Commonwealth ChalleNGe Youth Academy transition from candidates to cadets during an induction ceremony April 3, 2015, at Camp Pendleton, Va. (Photo by Master Sgt. A.J. Coyne, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

One of the recent changes to the program is that it has begun offering credit recovery to the cadets. This allows them the opportunity to receive credit for classes and return to high school after ChalleNGe instead of receiving their GED. This partnership with the school district can get the cadets placed back in high school where they can continue their education and pursue a high school diploma.

“Credit recovery keeps them in the classroom longer,” Chicoine said. “But they are still getting an opportunity to perform community service.”

This includes volunteering at local government offices and organizations. Cadets from Class 43 served as the honor guard at a groundbreaking ceremony near Camp Pendleton and will participate in a school supply drive at the April 25 Norfolk Tides baseball game.

Commonwealth ChalleNGe will also host an invitational event featuring sports competitions, academic events and a drill and ceremony competition May 28-31. Approximately 500 cadets from seven other ChalleNGe programs from around the country are slated to participate.

“Everyone gets involved (in the invitationals) and there is a lot of excitement,” said Myron James, a post residential counselor, who has been with ChalleNGe since the program began in 1994. “It’s something for them to look forward to and an opportunity to do something they couldn’t do in high school.”

In addition, Commonwealth ChalleNGe was one of 14 ChalleNGe programs selected by The National Guard Youth Foundation to launch an interactive education initiative to help meet the job market’s growing demand for employees with science, technology, engineering and mathematics skills. The new initiative provides STEM training resources to approximately 1,800 Youth ChalleNGe Program participants across the country.

Chicoine said the program is also pursuing two different grants, one for a new library and one for a gardening program. With the gardening program, produce grown on campus by cadets will be then served to them in the dining hall.

The program continues to offer parent and mentor workshops to help ease the transition for cadets when they complete the program.

“They’re having an impact and can help with the transition and expectations when the cadets return home,” Chicoine said.

ChalleNGe recruiters continue to canvass the state and are looking to increase the enrollment of cadets from Southwest Virginia, according to Kelly Bricko, the recruitment placement mentor coordinator for Commonwealth ChalleNGe. But when it comes to recruiting, testimonials and word of mouth referrals from graduates and family members are still the most effective.

The program is looking to organize an alumni event this summer, where graduates can network and share their experiences at ChalleNGe.

“We need that activity,” Chicoine said. “That’s something that will help with recruitment of cadets and mentors for the program.”

Photos: Induction ceremony turns Commonwealth ChalleNGe candidates into cadets – April 3, 2015

Photos: Va. Guard Soldiers help ChalleNGe candidates conquer rappel tower – March 29, 2015