The Wisconsin National Guard Challenge Academy, a program aimed at helping teens at risk of not graduating
high school turn their lives around, was recognized as the best such program in the nation during a National
Challenge workshop in San Diego on June 24.
This is the first time the Wisconsin program has earned the "Best All-Around" honor, according to Col. (retired) M. G. MacLaren, Wisconsin Challenge Academy director.
"It recognizes that our program conducts business very well on a day-to-day basis," MacLaren said. "This year our peers had the chance to nominate programs for the award. It's a very sweet situation when your peers say you do this better than anyone else - that makes this doubly humbling. There are some very good programs out there."
Thirty-three Youth Challenge sites operate in 28 states. The National Guard program began in 1991 at the direction of the House Joint Armed Service Committee, and opened academies in 15 states by 1993. Wisconsin's Challenge Academy started in 1998, and graduated its 24th class earlier this month.
Brig. Gen. Don Dunbar, adjutant general of Wisconsin, praised the academy staff.
"I can't begin to tell you how proud I am of your continued efforts on the part of our students and Wisconsin," he stated. "You continue to change lives and help create solid, productive men and women. To be recognized as the 'best all-around' program is truly exceptional, but it is the way you accomplished this honor that impresses me - you always focus on the students and never the award."
MacLaren credited his staff's hard work and consistency for the award.
"It's like a baseball team," he explained. "You can't just have one good day - you have to do well every day to succeed."
MacLaren said the award should bolster the confidence of the program's political and military supporters, but did not think it would have much influence with the program's clientele - troubled teens and their families.
"Parents are just concerned if we can help their kids," he said. "That's as it should be."
Over the past 12 years, more than 2,000 students - known as cadets - have graduated from Wisconsin Challenge Academy's 22-week course. Located at Fort McCoy, the Challenge Academy reshapes the lives of at-risk 16-to-18-year-olds. A structured, military-style environment and state-certified teachers and counselors combine to build cadets' academic abilities, character, self-confidence, and personal discipline.
After graduating, cadets are paired with hometown mentors who offer guidance and encouragement in pursuing their
new direction in life.
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A Wisconsin National Guard Challenge Academy cadet embraces family and friends following a graduation ceremony last Dec. 19 at Mauston High School. The Wisconsin program for at-risk teens was named "Best All-Around" program from 33 such programs nationwide June 24. Wisconsin National Guard photo by Sgt. Andy Poquette