ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. - Cadets in Class #41 were reunited with their loved ones during the Maryland National Guard Freestate ChalleNGe Academy's Family Day Aug. 25 at Capa Field on APG South (Edgewood).

The day began with the cadets marching and standing in formation and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in front of their Families. The cadets later joined their Families for lunch and to spend quality time together.

This event was the first time cadets have seen their Families since in-processing July 14.

For 22 weeks, cadets ages 16-18 will live in the academy's residential program, a structured, disciplined, quasi-military environment. These teens are in the program voluntarily, because they want a second chance at an education.

Because cadets have limited phone use and are not allowed to use the computer for e-mails or social networking, many keep in touch with their Families the old-fashioned way, by writing letters.

"I think I appreciate my Family more now that I don't see them every day," said Cadet Kameron Johnson from Bowie, Md. "I am actually glad that I don't have access to technology, because I don't want those distractions around me right now. I am able to focus on improving my life. I am more mature now."

Johnson's mother, Kim, said she was proud of all that her son has accomplished so far, and was happy to have the whole Family together again.

"He looks so different," she said. "He is more muscular because of the required PT. I also notice a positive change in his attitude."

Johnson's mentor, Edward Jenkins, a friend of the Family, also attended the festivities. All cadets have at least one mentor they communicate with while they are in the residential phase. Mentors play an ongoing role in the student's life, and serve as a support system for the cadet during the 12-month post-residential phase. Mentors and cadets discuss the student's future plans and spend time together, often providing service to the community or exploring job and school options.

"This program helps (at-risk) teens become productive citizens, I am very impressed," said Jenkins, who is retired Air Force. "I will try to be a good role model and a good friend to Kameron. I will encourage him to succeed."

RDECOM Civilian Tiffaney Evans, from Edgewood, said that while it is difficult to not see her son, Nkenge Evans, she is focused on the end result, graduation.

"These teens are all here for different reasons," she said. "They have to want to do better, and will benefit if they are committed to the program. I am looking forward to seeing my son walk across that stage in December."