EDGEWOOD, Md. - The Maryland National Guard Freestate ChalleNGe Academy inducted 136 cadets into Class No. 45 during a crossover ceremony at the APG South (Edgewood) recreation center July 27.
The Freestate ChalleNGe Academy (FCA) gives Maryland teens who have withdrawn from high school a unique opportunity: a second chance at an education and a successful future. For 22 weeks, cadets ages 16-18 voluntarily live in the academy's residential program: a structured, disciplined, military-style environment.
During their stay at FCA, cadets are provided with academic, job and life skills training that will prepare them for success after they leave the academy. The five-month residential portion of the program is followed by a yearlong post residential phase.
The crossover ceremony came just two weeks after 168 candidates were in-processed and began the acclimation phase of the FCA program, during which time the teens adjust to their new environment, rigorous schedule and a complete technology and smartphone blackout.
At the end of their first two weeks, the teens must decide if they want to stay in the program or leave. Those who elect to continue are inducted as cadets.
"These are the ones who have survived pre-challenge," said FCA case manager Betty Leflore during the invocation that opened the crossover ceremony. "They were faced with many challenges, hardships, homesickness, injuries, mass punishment and the outdoor heat. But they made it."
During the ceremony, the newly-inducted cadets walked across stage to receive congratulations from FCA staff members. FCA Director Charles Rose advised the cadets to foster a positive outlook.
"Attitude is a choice," Rose said. "You choose to say the things you do. You choose to behave the way you do. You choose to do the right things."
FCA counselor David Marsh wished the cadets continued success and reminded them of their responsibilities while enrolled in the program.
"We only ask one thing from you: to make sure you do all the work you're supposed to be doing here," Marsh said. "We will track you after you leave this program. So we expect you to follow directions, do what you're supposed to be doing, and get your high school diploma."
Rose said the academy procured a $50,000 grant to fund a new computer lab and study materials which inaugurated on-site general educational development (GED) test completion for Class No. 45.
In addition to the GED, all cadets will take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, a multiple aptitude test that measures abilities and helps predict future academic and occupational success in the military. Several FCA staff members are former military service members, and many FCA graduates go on to join the military.
Rose noted that approximately 84 cadets will complete vocational training in the coming weeks; double the number that participated during Class No. 44. He pointed out that the different types of skills cadets can learn while at the academy, include culinary, building maintenance, automotive, computer, piloting and barbering.
"You have opportunity," Rose said, "to change your lives around and become what we call 'productive citizens.' Walking out of here with your GED is probably the biggest accomplishment you can make. But even more so I think, is knowing that you can do it, and that you have accomplished something," he said.
After the induction, the cadets recited the Freestate ChalleNGe Academy Honor Code, which is meant to guide their actions while at the academy. They pledged to live honestly, respectfully, and to be good representatives of FCA.
Cadets who successfully finish the academy's residential program will graduate from the FCA during a ceremony at the APG North (Aberdeen) post theatre Dec. 12.
Rose encouraged the cadets to stick with the program and asked how many of them plan to graduate in December. Nearly every cadet raised his or her hand.
"I expect every one of you to be there," Rose said.
For more information about the FCA program, visit http://www.mdmildep.org/fca/.