NECEDAH, Wis. — One hundred cadets from 38 counties graduated as Class 40 from the Wisconsin National Guard Challenge Academy in a noon ceremony in front of hundreds of family and friends, academy staff, and several distinguished guests Saturday, June 16 at Necedah High School.
The graduating cadets successfully completed a 22-week in-residence program designed to re-shape and positively affect the lives of at-risk-16-to-18-year-olds using a structured, military-style environment with state-certified educators and counselors to build cadets’ academic abilities, character, self-confidence, and personal discipline.
“Most of the kids are credit deficient and on the wrong path when they come in,” said retired Col. Kevin J. Greenwood, Wisconsin Challenge Academy director, discussing the initial entry point for the teens volunteering for admittance to the academy. “They’ve identified that they need to make a change and have volunteered to enter this program and try to turn their life around.”
“This was the place to go for me,” said Isaiah Roundtree, Class 40’s Distinguished Honor Graduate from Beloit, Wisconsin. “I was raised better than I was acting, and I really needed to do better to accomplish my goals.
“When I got here I wasn’t very confident,” Roundtree continued. “The cadre saw something in me that I didn’t know was there. They really pushed me to discover what I had inside, and to help me become my best.”
Roundtree described a journey of redemption other Challenge Academy graduates have also experienced.
“I knew I needed to get my life back on track in order to be successful,” said Trey Brandenburg, a Challenge Academy Class 38 graduate attending this ceremony to be recognized for continued achievements maintaining the goals and values of the academy. “The self-discipline, confidence, and ability to motivate myself made it possible to not only achieve academic goals but reshaped who I am. It’s challenging — it’s hard to keep moving when you don’t want to.”
Brandenburg said the challenging academic program not only taught him how to motivate himself to succeed, but fostered a good learning environment that made it possible for him to achieve his academic goals. He said Challenge Academy proved to him that he could learn and be successful by pursuing his goals.
The cadets are provided with local mentors for after they graduate and return home with the goal of helping the graduate maintain focus and continue to strive to be successful.
“Maintaining the course is one of the greatest challenges going forward,” said Chris Grossman, a Challenge Academy mentor and social worker at Lakeland Union High School in Minocqua, Wisconsin. “For 22 weeks they’re removed from their former environmental and personal stressors that led them here. They’re able to learn discipline, and after 22 weeks they learn how to apply it to their life going forward, but keeping that bearing can be difficult. We talk at length about the plans going forward — the trick, and huge part of my role as mentor, is keeping on plan and keeping bearing for checking off the boxes to be successful.”
The National Guard Youth Challenge Program currently operates 40 programs in 28 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia. Nationwide, more than 145,000 teens have graduated. In Wisconsin more than 3,600 students have graduated, with more than 81 percent also earning their high school equivalency diploma while attending the Challenge Academy.
The Wisconsin Challenge Academy will begin its next class July 19. Applications are available for future classes by contacting the Challenge Academy at (866) 968-8422 or visiting their website.