by Marlys Kruger
After struggling to motivate herself during her high school years in the Colfax School District, Kelcy Arvold found herself short on credits in her senior year, meaning she was not going to graduate with her classmates this past spring. Knowing she needed an education and some self discipline to be successful in life, Kelsey enrolled in the National Guard Challenge Academy in Fort McCoy, WI last January.
Arvold, age 18, is the daughter of Nancy and Dan Arvold of Colfax. She knew she had the potential and the mentality to do her coursework which would have led to her passing her classes, but she just wasn’t interested and disciplined enough to follow through.
“I wasn’t doing my work to the best of my ability,” she said. “I never really was interested in academics or extra-curricular activities at school so attending classes became a problem. I tried the online coursework the school set up for me but that didn’t hold my interest either. But I knew I had to do something to earn a diploma or a High School Equivalency Degree (HSED) if I wanted to succeed in the real world,” she added.
After talking to a counselor who worked with at-risk students, the idea of applying for the Challenge Academy was brought up. According to the Academy’s website, the program is designed for at-risk youths who have the desire and the courage to change the direction of their lives. It is for students who have dropped out of high school or have fallen so far behind in credits they do not expect to graduate. It consists of 22 weeks at Fort McCoy in a highly structured environment, followed by one year in the cadet’s home community working with a local mentor. Each cadet participates in the academy’s eight core components which consist of academic instruction leading to a HSED; job skills training; physical fitness, health, sex education and nutrition; leading and following; life coping skills; responsible citizenship; and community service.There is no cost to the students or their school district and no military obligation is incurred. All cadets attend voluntarily and after a personal interview they are notified if they have been accepted. Kelcy was accepted in the first group of candidates who applied for the winter semester.
According to Kelcy, a typical day for the cadets begins between 4-4:30 a.m with physical fitness training which includes running and various exercises. (The students begin the semester running short distances and by the end of the 22 weeks, they had built themselves up to five mile runs). They had a short break to shower then they had daily chores to complete before they participated in community service projects the rest of the morning. After lunch, the academic lessons began which included core subjects such as math, language arts, science and social studies. Evenings were filled with other structured jobs such as doing laundry or cleaning around the compound, and homework.
“Some of the kids had basically quit school in sixth grade so they were really far behind academically,” Kelcy said. “But the teachers knew how to work with them and get them to a high school level.”
Males and females were separated the entire time and the semester started with 32 students with 22 completing the program. Kelcy graduated from the Military based program with the class and went through the ceremony June 11, but ended up one credit short in social studies and did not finish her HSED. She will pick that credit up this fall after enrolling in a Job Corp program in Green Bay where she will take welding classes. She is a certified scuba diver and would like to be an underwater welder some day.
“The Challenge Academy is not for everybody,” Kelcy said. “It is a true “Boot Camp” experience and is very demanding and structured, but it was exactly what I needed and it gave me a new view on life. They showed me I have a lot of potential and it is up to me to do something with it and they taught us to set goals, both short term and long term. For everyone who completed the program, it was a real life changer,” she concluded.