Ninety-eight teens were officially accepted into the Maryland National Guard Freestate ChalleNGe Academy Class #50 during a crossover ceremony at the APG South (Edgewood) conference center Feb. 6.
Maryland teens accepted into Freestate ChalleNGe Academy, or FCA, have withdrawn from traditional high school and desire a second chance at an education.
The students, who are referred to as “cadets” during the five-month residential phase, prepare for the GED and are taught eight core components in a highly structured, military-like setting. The components include academic excellence, leadership/followership, health and hygiene, service to the community, life coping skills, job skills, responsible citizenship and physical fitness. The cadets must pass each component to complete the program.
Counselor Keith Dickerson said 13 candidates are still under review, a process that was implemented last year. Before the teens become cadets, they are required to complete a two-week acclimation phase that focuses on teamwork and discipline. Before becoming cadets, they must answer questions regarding their willingness to complete the program before a board of cadre, case managers and instructors.
During the crossover ceremony, staff members introduced themselves to the students and highlighted the opportunities they will encounter while attending FCA. Cadets earn assessment points by completing assignments on time and exhibiting good behavior. They are eligible to participate in extra curricular activities if they earn enough assessment points.
Case manager Drisana Lynch said during each class, a small number of cadets are selected to serve on the FCA color guard squad. In the past, the squad has presented the colors for the Baltimore Orioles, Aberdeen IronBirds, Baltimore Ravens and at various military functions and community events.
“You have to be able to march, you have to be on point,” she said.
Case manager D’Angelo Goffigan said that each cadet will be required to complete at least 40 hours of community service.
“This is a great experience, a chance to pay it forward and give back to the community that has given to you,” he said. “You will be surprised how many people out there in the community care for you and want the best for your future.”
Josuha Barlow, a social studies instructor, said cadets with enough assessment points can serve on the Student Government Association, or SGA. The SGA meets once-a-week to discuss concerns and plan the FCA prom. During this cycle, the SGA will have the opportunity to travel to Annapolis to shadow elected officials, Barlow said.
“Make sure you are doing what you are supposed to be doing, so you can be a part of these special opportunities,” he said.
Staff members also highlighted job shadowing, vocational training, mentoring, driver’s education, the science club, field trips, athletic competitions and 3-D printing opportunities.
Making an impression
During the ceremony, the cadets recited the FCA Honor Code, vowing to live with integrity and to uphold the rules outlined in the FCA Handbook.
Deputy Director James Ray urged the students to put forth their best effort and prepare for the future. FCA provides many networking opportunities, he said.
“Every day is an interview, you never know who you are going to meet,” he said. “Everybody that you met today has connections, and knows people from different walks of life.”
Cadet Brendon Berchtold, 17, from Baltimore said he plans to join the U.S. Marine Corps after completing the program.
“I came here to better myself, to prove to myself that I am worthy of achieving something,” he said.
Dafne Garza, 16, from Montgomery County, said she is proud to be a cadet and that she hopes to join the Marine Corps or the Air Force.
“I want to serve the community, I like doing that,” she said.
About the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program
FCA is part of the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program, or NGYCP, a preventative program for at-risk youth. According to its website, NGYCP is “a community-based program that leads, trains and mentors 16- through 18-year-olds so that they may become productive citizens in America’s future.”
NGYCP currently operates 40 programs in 28 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia. Since the program began in 1993, more than 153,000 cadets have graduated. For more information about FCA, visit http://freestatemil.maryland.gov/.