Parish teens graduate Guard Youth Challenge Program

Five St. Mary Parish youth graduated from the Louisiana National Guard Youth Challenge Program in Alexandria last weekend. The program is designed to assist at-risk youth and offers them an alternative to dropping out of school with an educational and goal-oriented program. Attending the five-and-a-half month long first phase of the program and graduating were, from left, top of the class graduate Tommie Poirrier, Jeanerette; Drizzt Morales, Franklin; Callen Richard, Morgan City; Tony Caro, Jeanerette; and Kyle Ardeneaux, Franklin. (Submitted Photo)


Five St. Mary Parish youths were among 252 cadets graduating the Louisiana National Guard Youth Challenge Program at the Alexandria Riverfront Center Saturday.
The program, administered by the Louisiana National Guard, is an alternative educational program, to intervene in and reclaim the lives of 16 to 18 year-olds, producing graduates with the values, life skills, education and self-discipline necessary in order to succeed as productive citizens, a news release from the organization said.
The five announced graduates from the first phase of the program all attended Camp Beauregard in Pineville, and they are Callen Richard, 16, Morgan City; Kyle Ardeneaux, 18, Franklin; Drizzt Morales, 17, Franklin; Tony Caro, 16, Jeanerette; and Tommie Poirrier, 16, Jeanerette.
Sissy Pace, recruiting secretary of the program said “Tommie Poirrier is one of only 14 cadets out of the 252 graduates to be selected as a Five Star Cadet. These cadets represent the best of this class. They have shown outstanding improvement not only academically, but in the other core components of the program as well. We consider them leaders amongst their classmates and this outstanding accomplishment will be recognized at graduation.”
Poirrier said she was glad to be part of the program and it has made a difference in her life.
“YCP may push you to your limit, but it’s all worth it in the end because the plans for your future are finally falling into place even though they weren’t set when you came here,” Poirrier said.
The program is designed for at-risk youth, who struggle to find success in a traditional school setting. As an alternative to dropping out of school, the program offers enrollees an opportunity to improve their lives through participation in an alternative school, the news release said.
Pace said the program is an educationally-driven two-phase program that operates independently of the juvenile justice system; which means a young person cannot be sentenced or forced to attend. It is not what some term a boot camp and is purely voluntary for which students must apply, participate in an interview process and be accepted before they can enter, Pace said.
Nationwide, 27 states operate 35 Challenge Academies. Louisiana has the unique distinction of operating three programs: Camp Beauregard in Pineville, Camp Minden in north Louisiana and The Gillis Long Center near Baton Rouge, the news release said.
Pace said the five graduates completed the first phase in which students live on site for five-and-a-half months. During this phase, cadets attend school Monday through Friday, receive individual counseling and are supervised 24 hours per day.
Students work closely with state certified teachers to develop curriculum plans designed to increase their grade levels in core subjects, Pace said. Students work at their own pace in order to meet state requirements to test for a GED diploma.
Now they will return home for phase two which is completed under the direction and oversight of a mentor, who the student selects from within the community, Pace said. For a year they are assisted by the mentors with a goal to be doing something productive, such as working, or attending school, she said. The mentor must come to the facility to complete a one-day training event.
Maj. Kenneth Price, director of the Youth Challenge Program at Camp Beauregard stated, “Our cadets have come to the Youth Challenge Program from all walks of life … and with unique personal challenges. Our cadets understood that life was not what it should have been and volunteered to make a change. The … program has facilitated that change and provided hope to many teenagers and their families through this second chance.”
The Youth Challenge Program is recognized as one of the nation’s most effective and cost efficient programs for targeting at-risk youth, the news release said. It is administered to participants at no cost, and all needs such as meals, bedding, classroom instruction and uniforms are provided free of charge.
Since 1994, more than 100,000 cadets have graduated nationwide with more than 20,000 being from Louisiana, the news release said. Typically, Louisiana graduates approximately 1,400 teens a year from its three locations.
More than 80 percent of teens that graduate this program go on to further their education, join the work force or enlist into the military, the release said.
Other aspects of the program touted by the release are:
—Approximately 80 percent of Louisiana Youth Challenge Program graduates receive their GED diploma.
—More than 50 percent join the work force.
—Approximately 10 percent join the military.
—Nearly 44 percent continue their education.
—Program participants have donated more than 5 million hours of community service.
—Programs have awarded graduates nearly 50,000 academic credentials.

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