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Washington Youth Academy recognized as an Innovative School by state
A teenager was visiting Bremerton High School and thought it was strange seeing some students with their cellphones on their desks. Inside the building, an adult told him he could keep his hat on.
At the Washington Youth Academy, Cadet Schramm has been having a different experience.
“I said I didn’t feel right wearing it anymore,” said Schramm.
A lot has changed for Schramm and his fellow students at the Bremerton academy, a credit-retrieval program designed for 16 to 18-year-olds who have dropped out of high school or who are at risk to.
The academy, a quasi-military training and mentoring program, is a division of the National Guard Youth Challenge Program and was announced last month by the state Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn as an Innovative School.
The academy was selected along with 21 other schools in the state for providing instructional programs that are bold, creative and innovative.
“This should be turned into a four-year school,” said Schramm of the academy – a 22-week program where students also live on campus.
Students come to the academy voluntarily and cannot be involved with the court system, said Lynn Caddell, the school’s principal.
The program accommodates up to 150 students and is state and federally funded with no cost to students or parents. The program is based on a partnership between the National Guard and the state Military Department as well as the Bremerton School District.
An estimated 130 students, which make up the sixth class, will matriculate Dec. 17. The first class entered the school in 2009. The academy is a statewide program and serves students from every county.
At it’s core, the program is very structured. Students wake up at 4:45 a.m. Monday through Saturday for physical training. They each take six classes a day with a seventh period for mandatory tutoring.
The students are not allowed to have cellphones or iPods with them in order to remove any possible distractions.
“It’s for students that need to press the restart button on their academic life,” Caddell said.
The first two weeks of the program is an acclimation period where students learn about discipline, teamwork and fitness training. They are put in a uniform and can earn ranks based on leadership throughout the entire program, said Caddell.
Classes are separated by gender and the class size is 25 students or less. For every session, the school receives more applications for the program than space available, added Caddell.
Students march together in unison when going to their next class. A peer leader for each class accounts for everyone and reports to the teachers. Being a peer leader teaches them about responsibility and that assignment rotates so that more than one student can take on that role, said Caddell.
It’s not uncommon for students to have been encouraged by parents or peers to enter the academy.
Cadet Riley learned about the academy at the office of his old high school after he got into trouble. He met a fellow student who had been through the academy’s program and told him about it.
“There was a kid with his head shaved. I thought, ‘that’s weird,’” said Riley who will graduate in about a week.
Caddell said after graduation, each student is assigned a mentor who will stay in contact with the student for an entire year after leaving the program. Mentors are different people from the community including educators and doctors who are trained by the academy to be mentors to the teens.
Since the program at the academy is based on retrieving credits, students return to their regular high schools to fulfill the rest of their requirements and graduate.
Addressing the possible military influence on student’s lives, Caddell said that students who graduate from the academy are no more likely to join the armed forces as those who attend a regular high school.
Not only are students taking English, history and math classes but they also learn about career choices, nutrition and wellness and computer applications. Without a janitorial staff, students also learn how to clean up after themselves.
In addition to a structured academic environment, the students spend many weekends volunteering in the community. They take camping trips to give opportunities that the teenagers may not have had before, such as cleaning up a local park or learning how to rappel off a 60-foot tower.
While Caddell said it is common for adults to want to figure out how teenagers can build self-esteem in order to be successful, the academy’s program is based on having students just try things — and the rest will develop from that.
“We want you to try and achieve and that will build self-esteem,” Caddell said.
Cadet Gonzalez, also in the sixth class, said he was afraid to do the tower-rappelling activity but he tried it and overcame his fear.
Gonzales said he has built confidence and overcome more than the physical challenges of the military style academy. Prior to enrolling at the academy, he couldn’t write an essay. Now, he’s built the confidence to be a stronger writer.
“The teachers want all of us to not give up,” said Gonzalez. “I’ve overcome things.”