By Marilyn Miller
(This is the second installment of a three-part series focusing on the “Youth Challenge Program” and its impact on Louisiana, Webster Parish, and Minden. Part 1 of the article focused on the two local people, Jean Doerge and Col. Carl Thompson; the U. S. Senator, Mary Landrieu; and Louisiana Gov. Mike Foster, all who succeeded in bringing the YCP to northwest Louisiana in 2002.)
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, YOUTH CHALLENGE PROGRAM!!
The Youth Challenge Program at Camp Minden became legal this year! Scratch the scene where a bunch of cadets throw their caps into the air and head for the nearest night club. But bring out the birthday cake! The successful Louisiana National Guard-supported, education-based initiative turned 21 on Jan. 20, 2023.
And save some of that birthday cake for the nationwide program, which turns 30 this year.
According to the Louisiana National Guard, “The Youth Challenge Program in Louisiana was established in 1993, following Congressional approval for a pilot program to address and improve the high school drop-out crisis. Camp Beauregard YCP in Pineville, La. was established as one of 10 pilot programs nationwide.”
Not surprisingly, the program was successful, and “the Louisiana National Guard was recognized for its ability to train, lead, and mentor young people in a caring and disciplined environment, which supported students academically and assisted them to earn their high school equivalency diploma.”
In 1999, the Gillis W. Long Center in Carville became the site of Louisiana’s second YCP program, and a historic third program was added at Camp Minden in 2002. Louisiana is the only State to have three programs. Each class conducts two classes per year, and is open to applicants throughout the State. Camp Minden begins classes in February and August. Camp Beauregard in Pineville is assigned to January and July. The Gillis W. Long Center in Carville begins classes every April and October.
“The program model is the same no matter what State the YCP is located in,” civilian manager for Public Relations in Louisiana, Megan Ready, pointed out. However, 30 years of experience have also contributed to the progress of the initiative, which is measured in the productiveness of a Cadet, rather than statistics.
The YCP was designed around a model consisting of three phases: a two-week Pre-Challenge Residential Phase (acclimation), a 20-week Residential Phase (candidates become cadets), and a 12-month Post Residential Phase (mentoring/placement takes place). A quasi-military environment is defined for the 22-week residential phase.
“The Louisiana National Guard Youth Challenge Program encourages teamwork, personal growth, and development through Eight Core Components,” according to the Louisiana Army National Guard website. These are Life Coping Skills, Academic Excellence, Job Skills, Responsible Citizenship, Leadership/Followership, Health & Hygiene, Service to the Community, and Physical Fitness.
During the marking of the 25th anniversary of the National Youth Challenge Program in 2017, the Program Manager for the YCP, Kim Folsom-Kuster, admitted that the initiative is “not exactly the same as it was when we first began in 1993.”
During the early years, the focus was on providing a structured pathway to earn a GED (Graduate Equivalency Diploma) certificate, with the underlying military-style environment and discipline providing the overall day-to-day approach and framework. Now, the GED (HISet) is only one of two “educational pathways” inside the classroom. The other is “course choice/credit recovery”(CCCR), which affords students the opportunity to return to the school they came from and graduate with their class. About 10-15 percent of students are in this pathway, which involves a student’s school counselor and can be taken “virtually” on campus.
Ms. Ready explained that the YCP works hand-in-hand with the State Dept. of Education, so a student cannot drop out of public school until the age of 18. With YCP cadets ranging in ages 16 to 18, the HiStep (GED) program is very important.
A third pathway, the Job Challenge Program has now been developed, and is being offered at Gillis W. Long Center in Carville. The mission of JCP is to provide selected graduates of the 22-week Youth Challenge Program an opportunity to earn a vocational skill, to achieve a “basic level” industrial certification and to gain access to entry-level job opportunities. This allows them to acquire critical career skills, to strengthen pathways to employment, and to increase future earnings.
A BOOT CAMP?
One of the most frequently asked questions about the YCP is, “Is it a boot camp?” No. This term is often affiliated with the court system.
“YCP is a military style alternative educational program. Students cannot be sentenced or court-ordered to attend. The decision to attend is made by the applicant and family. Each year a diverse group of teenagers from all across the state, and from all walks of life, successfully complete the program,” a Louisiana National Guard spokesman said. It is also not a recovery program. An applicant must be drug-free in order to be considered for acceptance.
“All kinds of students from all kinds of families” come to the YCP, said Ms. Ready. “A student who has been in a little trouble could find themself seated next to a student who has seen unimaginable trauma.”
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