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All about the Idaho Youth Challenge Academy

The Idaho National Guard program changing lives
Posted at 9:33 AM, Dec 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-09 11:40:25-05

PIERCE, Idaho — Being a teenager isn't easy, and sometimes the pressure of trying to balance everything can lead to making the wrong choice. Fortunately, the Idaho National Guard has a program just for younger Idahoans who may have gone a little off track.

"Basically, it's a place of hope. It was originally instituted a little over 25 years ago by the national guard bureau to address the need of high school dropouts," said Idaho Youth Challenge Academy Director Trevor Sparrow.

In tiny Pierce, Idaho, a town of only 600 people, sits the Idaho Youth Challenge Academy where cadets spend five months working with mentors and instructors.

"We've helped just over 14-hundred kids graduate, almost 15-hundred graduate from the program here, and traditionally, about 20% of each class earns their GED's and also about 20% earn their high school diploma. We're an accredited high school," said Sparrow.

Some cadets are students like 17-year-old Shelly Mendive, who wanted to get her academics on track before one day joining the military.

"I don't want to graduate at 21 years old, so I'm just gonna do my GED here instead of getting a high school diploma, and then I can enlist at 17 and just move on with my life," said IDYCA Cadet Shelly Mendive.

Cadets aren't only earning an academic grade, they're also picking up valuable life lessons.

"There's always going to be problems. So why not come to a place where you can learn to face those problems and figure out how to address them in a productive manner rather than doing the things that you've always done and don't seem to be working because you're the one that makes the grass greener. Not anyone else," said Sparrow.

75% of the program is paid for by the Idaho National Guard, but that doesn't mean it's just a recruiting tool.

"I don't want...you know, maybe the parents, the teachers, the counselors, I don't want them to think this is some self-serving enterprise. It truly is for the benefit of the young men and women and our society that they go there," said Idaho National Guard Major General Michael Garshak.

One of those benefits is the connection between cadets and their mentors.

"She's like basically, I'm not gonna give up on you. When she told me that, I was kind of like, please stop because not a lot of people have told me that they're proud of me or they're not gonna give up on me," said Mendive.

The academy is hosting several orientations around the state all this month, and if you're worried about the cost? It's 100% free for those who attend. For more information, visit their website.