ChalleNGe Academy welcomes new cadets

(From left) Cadets Tai’Sheir Bradford, Jasmine Brown, Leticia Cardoso, Teresa Chambers, Ivette Garcia and other members of Class #48 recite the Freestate ChalleNGe Academy Honor Code during the crossover ceremony at the APG South (Edgewood) recreation center, Monday, Jan. 23, 2017.| U.S. Army photo by Rachel Ponder, APG News

The Maryland National Guard Freestate ChalleNGe Academy officially welcomed 118 teens into its life-changing program during a crossover ceremony for Class #48 at the APG South (Edgewood) recreation center Jan. 23.
Those who attend FCA have withdrawn from high school and are voluntarily seeking a second chance at an education. They are afforded the opportunity to prepare for GED tests, while living in a structured, military-style environment.
The teens, ages 16-18, began a two-week “acclimation phase,” Jan. 8. Discipline and teamwork are emphasized during this phase, according to FCA 1st Sgt. Brian McNabb. The teens are called “candidates” and must demonstrate respect for their cadre and their peers in order to become cadets, he said.
“They have to [learn to] look out for each other, to help each other get through the program,” he said.

Accountability

During the crossover ceremony, FCA Director Charles Holloway said every cadet will be held accountable for their actions.
“Now it’s time to get to work,” he said. “You came here for an opportunity to receive your [high school] diploma; I can guarantee you, you won’t do that if you don’t put forth the work now.”
McNabb then led the cadets in the FCA Honor Code. Cadets who pledge to uphold the FCA Honor Code vow to live with integrity, he said.
“The Honor Code is not to be taken lightly,” he told the cadets. “Each cadre takes it seriously, and I expect you to take it seriously.”
After the cadets were officially inducted into the program, they received two pins to wear on their Battle Dress Uniforms.

Looking to the future

McNabb said some cadets struggle with homesickness, especially in the beginning. The no-nonsense cadre members do not “placate them,” he said. “Being in the right frame of mind, having a positive attitude and motivation will get them through the program.”
Cadet Tai’Sheir Bradford, 17, from Baltimore, said she enrolled in the program to set a good example for her younger siblings.
“I don’t want them to make the mistakes I had,” she said.
Cadet Dillon Bailey, 16, from Prince George’s County, said he enrolled in FCA to earn his GED, and to learn leadership skills. He hopes to become an engineer.
Bailey’s mother, Barbara Manley, said she is excited for her son’s future. He was “gravitating towards the wrong things and the wrong people,” she said.
“He’s always been interested in engineering so I’m happy he wants to continue on that path. “He’s a great kid. He deserves this opportunity.”

Academy life

During the five-month “residential phase” cadets are taught eight core components (academic excellence, leadership/followership, health and hygiene, service to the community, life coping skills, job skills, responsible citizenship and physical fitness) and must pass each component to graduate.
Cadets are eligible to participate in extra activities like sports, color guard, vocational training and student government, if they earn enough behavior points.
After completing the program, the students are required to work closely with trained mentors from their community for 12 months, as they continue their education, enter the military, or seek employment.

About Freestate ChalleNGe Academy

FCA is a division of the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program, which was established under the authority of federal and state laws in 1993. The program is open to Maryland residents, ages 16-18. For more information, visit the FCA website at http://freestatemil.maryland.gov.

By Rachel Ponder, APG News