Belize looks to La. Guard to create its own at-risk youth program

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By 2nd Lt. Rebekah Malone
Louisiana National Guard Public Affairs Office

PINEVILLE, La. –The Louisiana National Guard welcomed a delegation from the Belize Defence Force to Camp Beauregard in Pineville, La., to tour its Youth ChalleNGe Program, Feb. 18-20.

The National Guard Bureau’s State Partnership Program pairs countries and states together to link U.S. national interests and security cooperation goals by engaging partner nations to establish and sustain enduring relationships to promote national objectives, stability, partner capacity, better understanding and trust. The LANG and BDF have been partners since 1996.

“The BDF, working through the State Partnership Program in Louisiana, requested to visit our Youth ChalleNGe Program. They are in the process of creating a very similar program for at-risk youth in Belize,” said Col. Michael Borrel, director of educational programs for the Louisiana National Guard.

“Louisiana has three programs and has been in operation now for a little over 20 years. They [the BDF] were looking at how our program runs in all aspects; accepting the kids, criteria for the kids, as well as the residential and the post-residential programs,” he said.

Started in the fall of 1993, LANG’s YCP is nationally recognized as a successful model. The three locations at Camp Minden in Minden, La., Camp Beauregard in Pineville, La., and Gillis W. Long Center in Baton Rouge, La., have graduated a combined 17,410 students.

According to the Louisiana Department of Education, 8,704 students were classified as drop-outs in 2009-10. Each year, LANG YCP graduates roughly 1,400 students a year – a significant percentage of Louisiana’s drop-outs, with more than half receiving a general educational development (GED) certificate.

The Belize delegation expressed excitement throughout the visit at the benefit to the youth they witnessed and their hopes to educate and change the lives of at-risk youth in Belize.

“I think your program stands out as a successful model [to transform the lives of at-risk youth],” said Capt. Marco Salam, officer-in-charge of the BDF delegation visiting Camp Beauregard.

The BDF’s version will be similar to Louisiana’s system, but includes a larger age range, 14-21, than LANG’s program explained Salam.

The tour of Camp Beauregard highlighted everything from dining facility procedures, laundry facilities, access to medical care, to cadre staffing, budgeting, educational instruction, disciplinary measures and how essential it is to get the community involved.

“We also gave them a lot of techniques and procedures we use in getting the local businesses involved in the program so you have community buy-in. One of the most important things that makes the program a success is … getting them placed into society in a job or education where they become productive and don’t revert back,” said Borrel.

Long term numbers are particularly impressive for the program as well. At the end of the program’s combined 17-month residential and post-residential phase, 81 percent of YCP graduates are employed, in an educational program of some type, have joined the military or a combination of the three.

According to Master Sgt. Richard Bullock, operations manager for LANG YCP, Louisiana’s program has achieved an 83% GED pass rate of the cadets tested. Over the last four years, the program has seen an average grade increase of more than two grade levels in reading and math in five months and has exceeded the national grade level increase average for Youth ChalleNGe.

Looking to further increase the post-residential success of its graduates, YCP partnered with outside groups to offer even more to its graduates.

In the last year, LANG YCP began a pilot program that provides cadets with an opportunity to become certified in basic construction education and listed on the National Center for Construction and Education Research (NCCER) register.

To date, 88 students have completed the 90-hour course and received their certification at a pass rate of 85 percent. These additional qualifications further boosts the cadets’ employability once leaving the program, said Bullock.

Additionally, Bossier Parish Community College partnered with YCP to allow cadets to receive credit for college classes taken during their enrollment at YCP at no charge to the cadet. BPCC has awarded more than 2,200 college hours to nearly 300 students since the program began a year ago.

“We think our partnership with BPCC provides an enormous benefit for our cadets because it starts them on a career path before they even leave YCP,” said Borrel.

Once completing the program, YCP graduates may also apply for a college scholarship each semester through the non-profit Military Education and Training Enhancement Fund to continue their education.

“In the last year alone, we have approved 21 scholarships, typically at $1,000 each,” said Bullock.

Several more meetings and discussions with the BDF are in the works over the coming year, but the groundwork has been laid to help Belize build a strong program at home to help their youth.

“Seeing the program in action and learning about some of our policies – I think that just in itself was very beneficial [for the BDF]. I think they saw what right looks like.

“It’s about sharing with our partners,” said Borrel.

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