Appalachian ChalleNGe Academy graduates newest class

Photos by Alli Burton, Kentucky National Guard Family Programs

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Cadet Swakhila Fishback receives her diploma during a graduation ceremony for the cadets of the Appalachian Challenge Academy in Harlan, Ky., Dec. 14, 2013. (Kentucky National Guard photo by Alli Burton)

HARLAN, Ky. — The Kentucky National Guard’s Youth Challenge program reached new heights with the graduation of Appalachian Challenge Academy’s Class 3 on December 14, 2013.  The academy is in its second year of operation and already the program is making a huge difference in the lives of Kentucky’s teenagers.

“I am very proud of the accomplishments of each Class 3 graduate,” said Josh Coldiron, ACA director.  “This was our most successful class to date. Collectively, cadets earned 223 high school credits, which is a new class record at Appalachian ChalleNGe.  Nineteen cadets earned their GED, and the class completed 3,072 hours of community service.”

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A large crowd fills the auditorium at Harlan County High School in Harlan, Ky., for the graduation ceremony of cadets from the Appalachian Challenge Academy, Dec. 14, 2013. (Kentucky National Guard photo by Alli Burton)

Jointly funded between the federal government and the Commonwealth of Kentucky, and sponsored by the Kentucky National Guard, the Youth ChalleNGe program is designed to help youth, ages 16-18, get a jump start on life.  The 22-week curriculum covers extensive academic studies geared toward completing a high school diploma as well as physical fitness, leadership and community awareness projects.

The program has been around for nearly 20 years. More than 100,000 cadets have graduated from the program nation-wide.

Coldiron said 16 cadets from ACA Class 3 completed GEN 140 – Development of Leadership, offered through Southeast Community and Technical College, earning one college credit hour.   Sevent-three of the cadets were certified in first aid and completed KHP 190 – First Aid and Emergency Care, offered through Southeast Community and Technical College Workforce Development Program, each receiving one college credit hour.

“Life doesn’t stop after graduation from the academy,” said Coldiron.  “We have 32 cadets returning to high school to get their diplomas, while the rest are either joining the workforce, attending Job Corp, joining the military, or pursuing college or vocational and technical education.”

“We’re really proud of all the things our cadets accomplished this year,” he said.  “We’re already looking forward to continued success with the next class.”

The Kentucky National Guard Youth ChalleNGe academies are currently recruiting for a January 12, 2014 deadline.

To find out more about the Appalachian ChalleNGe Academy in Harlan call 1-855-596-4927 or email

To find out more about the Bluegrass ChalleNGe Academy at Fort Knox call 1-877-599-6884 or email

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Appalachian Challenge Academy Director Josh Coldiron congratulates a cadet during the academy’s class graduation in Harlan, Ky., Dec. 14, 2013. (Kentucky National Guard photo by Alli Burton)

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Dan Smoot, President of Operation UNITE speaks to cadets at the Appalachian Challenge Academy during a graduation ceremony in Harlan, Ky., Dec. 14, 2013. (Kentucky National Guard photo by Alli Burton)

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