Following their graduation last month from The Washington Youth Academy, five students from East Pierce County are well on the right track to turning their life around.
Marina Peck of Bonney Lake, Christian Araiza of Puyallup, and Sumner teenagers Marissa Carino, Miranda Malm and Mason Mooreman Huber were among 140 other cadets who will return to their respective high schools to earn their diplomas, enroll in summer school, or find an alternative plan to finish their high school education.
As a division of the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe program, the WYA empowers at-risk youth to improve their education level and employment possibilities through a highly disciplined and safe learning environment. The academy places the students or cadets in a 22-week intensive program where the students live on the school’s Bremerton campus.
Now that Peck, Araiza, Carino, Malm, and Mooreman Huber have graduated from the academy, they are now entering a year of intense mentoring and follow up.
According to program director Larry Pierce, Malm wanted to quit in the beginning, but hung on and graduated from the program.
“She was a little spitfire,” recalled Sue Kitchel, the academy’s Recruiting, Placement and Mentoring coordinator. “I remember being there in the commandant’s office, and she was right in the face and adamant that she didn’t want to be here and she was only here for her parents, and that she didn’t want to do it because it was too hard. She stuck it out and was amazing at the end. She was delightful and happy, and smiling and proud of her accomplishments.”
Peck was always the first to volunteer throughout his 22-week program, was given a job on special projects, and was a natural born leader of his peers, Pierce said.
“Carino is a good solid cadet, and did a solid job while enrolled and graduated,” Pierce said of Carino.
Araiza was similar to Malm, and wanted to leave at the beginning.
“He turned into a kid in the end that was determined not to quit,” Pierce said. “He stuck with it and was caring about his leadership, and compassionate and pushed himself constantly to do better.”
As for Mooreman Huber, Kitchel said he was another cadet who didn’t want to be in the program.
“He had anger issues,” she said. “When he came to us, he and his mom were homeless. He was very connected to her and worried about her. Until he had the opportunity to talk to her, (and) when she said, ‘you need to stay there, you need this,’ is when he started to turn things around. He never had a look of happiness on his face the first six weeks he was here until he went home on home pass. He came back determined to complete and stepped it up for the last half of the program.”
“He persevered through the cycle and graduated in top standings,” Pierce said.
While in the 22-week academy, students can earn up to eight credits, and through the most recent cycle, the students achieved an average of 7.9 credits. A full year of high school in Washington is six credits, meaning most students earned more than a year’s worth of high school credits in just 22 weeks. Graduating cadets had an average GPA for courses at the academy of 3.6; 52 of the cadets who graduated had a GPA less than a D average before the academy.
“For a lot of them, they haven’t experienced success in their lives, so they are expecting this to be another failed attempt, and we don’t want that to happen,” Pierce said. “We condition their minds, we condition their bodies, and we condition their spirits. We get them fired up and believing that they can accomplish what they want to in the world and not be a victim of the world. Our cadets do very well.”