Youth ChalleNGe Program provides more than just discipline

MINDEN, La. – Louisiana National Guard Youth Challenge Program cadets study during class time at Camp Minden, in Minden. Thanks to a special partnership between the LANG and Bossier Parish Community College, 78 cadets from Camp Minden’s program in Minden, La., will graduate with 1,158 hours of college credit in a ceremony at the Shreveport Municipal Auditorium in Shreveport, Louisiana, July 19, 2014. In all, 211 cadets are set to graduate.  (U.S. Army National Guard courtesy photo/RELEASED)

MINDEN, La. – Louisiana National Guard Youth Challenge Program cadets study during class time at Camp Minden, in Minden. Thanks to a special partnership between the LANG and Bossier Parish Community College, 78 cadets from Camp Minden’s program in Minden, La., will graduate with 1,158 hours of college credit in a ceremony at the Shreveport Municipal Auditorium in Shreveport, Louisiana, July 19, 2014. In all, 211 cadets are set to graduate. (U.S. Army National Guard courtesy photo/RELEASED)

La. National Guard graduates earn 1,158 college credit hours in 22 weeks

By 1st Lt. Rebekah Malone
Louisiana National Guard Public Affairs Office

PINEVILLE, La. – The partnership between the Louisiana National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program and Bossier Parish Community College, allowing cadets to receive credit for college classes taken during their enrollment at YCP, has flourished during the last 18 months.

This weekend, 78 cadets from Camp Minden’s program in Minden, Louisiana, will graduate with 1,158 hours of college credit in a ceremony at the Shreveport Municipal Auditorium in Shreveport, Louisiana, July 19. In all, 211 cadets are set to graduate.

Of those, 47 cadets earned the full 15 hours offered, which is roughly one full semester of college. These credit hours are earned at no cost to the cadet.

“The National Guard Youth Challenge Program is an amazing intervention to help young men and women take charge of their futures,” said Dr. Jim Henderson, chancellor at BPCC. “The partnership between BPCC and the Louisiana National Guard adds immense value to the program … that 47 cadets in this graduating class obtained all 15 credits is a testament to the dedication and potential of these cadets and to the effectiveness of the YCP program.”

The three Louisiana locations at Camp Minden in Minden, Camp Beauregard in Pineville, and Gillis W. Long Center in Baton Rouge, have seen 508 cadets earn 4,221 hours of college credit from BPCC since its inception a year and a half ago, according to Master Sgt. Richard Bullock, operations manager YCP.

“Each graduate is now empowered to pursue a career, either as a civilian or service member, take charge of their economic futures, and contribute to their communities. BPCC could not be prouder of these graduates or more honored to partner with such a great organization,” said Henderson.

Testing for and receiving the hours of college credit is no small task for students that, on average, enter the program with a sixth-grade education. This coursework is on top of other demanding requirements of the 22-week residential program.

“They didn’t just earn this in the traditional way. They had to go through a lot more. They had that mental toughness to take those college hours and take what they learned … that really prepares them for the future,” said Capt. Jason Montgomery, director of Camp Minden’s program.

Preston Ponders, 18, of Ruston, Louisiana, graduated from Camp Minden’s program in January. In an extraordinary story, Preston received a $20,000 scholarship from the National Guard Youth Foundation for use in his pursuit of higher education, which is one of only two such scholarships awarded across all YCPs in the nation.

Between his junior and senior year of high school, Ponders said he found himself in trouble. His parents gave him the option of going to YCP, and he accepted.

“I made the right decision,” said Ponders. “I was at that point that if I wouldn’t have gone [to YCP], I would have gone back [to the wrong crowd].”

Ponders, now a student at Louisiana Tech University majoring in cyber technology, also graduated from YCP with 15 hours of college credit from BPCC. He immediately enrolled at La. Tech following his graduation in January 2014, and is now nearly a year ahead of his peers that just graduated from high school in May.

“[The program] really prepared me for what I would face after YCP,” he said. “It sets you on a good path.”

At the graduation on Saturday, Ponders will receive an additional $5,000 scholarship from the Military Education and Training Enhancement Fund. In the last year alone, 27 scholarships have been awarded through the non-profit fund, typically at $1,000 each.

“Those are perpetual scholarships. Preston can continue to reach back, access those funds and continue his education without having to go through the struggle,” said Montgomery.

“Here at YCP, our aim is much higher than to just instill discipline in at-risk youth. Our goal is to see our graduates employed, purse a higher education, join the military – or all three. We want to give our young adults the best chance for success we can and will continue to look for opportunities to do so in the future,” said Col. Michael Borrel, director of educational programs for the LANG.

Louisiana’s YCP has a multi-faceted approach that not only addresses discipline and education, but also immediately employable job skills upon graduation. 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 through a partnership with Associated Building Contractors. To date, 174 students have received the certification.

Upon graduation from the residential program, the youth transition to a 12-month post residential program to help graduates stay on track by providing stability and support to the foundation’s core components.

“For that first year in college, they can reach back to their case managers, to staff members here at the program, if they have issues; we talk them through those issues,” said Montgomery. “We provide them that support. The ability to reach back to the program I believe is key to these kids … they know we are here.”

The Louisiana National Guard YCP is a disciplined, military-style training program which offers at-risk 16-18 year-olds an opportunity to change their future in many ways, including the opportunity to earn a high school equivalency (HiSET) diploma. The Louisiana program achieves an 83% HiSET pass rate of the youth that test and an average grade increase of more than two levels.

The first cadet walking across the stage on Saturday will be the 18 thousandth graduate of LANG’s program since its first class more than 20 years ago – armed with an education not only in the classroom, but in many aspects of life.