Cadet Elijah Small of Gig Harbor successfully completed the Washington Youth Academy and was celebrated with his peers during commencement ceremonies.
There were 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. Small had been a student at Henderson Bay High School.
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.
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“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.