Milestone graduation for ChalleNGe Academy

By Staff Sgt. Scott Raymond, Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs

Cadets with the Bluegrass Challenge Academy graduated with their high school diplomas during a ceremony in Radcliff, Ky., Sept. 23, 2017. The graduation was a first for the academy after signing a partnership with the Eminence Independent School District allowing the academy to award diplomas to deserving cadets. (Courtesy photo)

RADCLIFF, Ky. – Cadets have graduated from the Kentucky National Guard’s Bluegrass ChalleNGe Academy since 1999. More than 3500 teens have passed through the graduation line, taking important steps toward improving their lives.

September 23, 2017 marked another graduation, and a milestone step for the academy as 96 more cadets graduated during a ceremony at the Stithton Baptist Church in Radcliff, Ky. For the first time in its history, BCA graduated 12 cadets with their high school diploma in hand. Thanks to a partnership with the Eminence Independent School District.

“This graduation will be the first of many in the future that are two graduations in one ceremony,” said Brig. Gen. Charles Jones, Director of BCA. “This has been a long term goal of the Kentucky National Guard Youth ChalleNGe program and only possible through the great support of the Governor, Lt. Governor, the commitment and dedication of the Eminence Independent School District staff and many here within BCA.”

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Jones added that BCA is one of the very few Youth ChalleNGe Academies across the nation now awarding a high school diploma to deserving graduates. It comes at a fitting time as the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe (NGYC) will celebrate its 25th anniversary in October.

BCA signed the partnership with Eminence Superintendent Buddy Berry in a ceremony hosted by Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton in March. Hampton and her staff were instrumental in creating the partnership and were on hand again for the graduation, handing out awards and speaking with cadets.

In her commencement speech, Hampton challenged the cadets to believe they could be better than they are today, to reject low expectations and change how they see themselves in the world.

“My staff and I took it upon ourselves as a challenge to make this happen,” said Hampton. “I am so pleased to be here at this first commencement where they’re handing out diplomas, and I was thrilled to be a part of that.”

Troy Hampton serves as the deputy director of the academy and said the growth of the program and its impact will continue to have life-long benefits for attending cadets.

“Today is the culmination of eight years of hard work and putting the right people in the right places to make this happen,” he said. “This partnership and the legitimacy of awarding diplomas will tie us into schools easier and help those kids that may be slipping through the cracks. The future looks really bright for this academy.”

For those cadets not earning diplomas, the academy stills serves its true mission of providing the spark to put teens back on track. That’s exactly why Cadet Angel Cox went to BCA. After falling behind in high school grades, Cox met with a BCA recruiter and thought it was right for her.

“Graduating here means I can pick up where I left off and excel at what I am doing,” she said.

Not all cadets chose to be there, like Asiimwe Ironside, who said he wasn’t happy to hear of his parents’ decision to send him to BCA. Adopted from Ghana, Ironside came from a rough childhood and according to his father, Kevin, Asiimwe had trouble adjusting to society and trusting those who cared for him. Kevin said his son’s transformation into a disciplined and respectful young man is night and day

“Graduating is not just walking the stage, it is the first step for me going out in the real world, applying what I have learned at the academy,” Assiimwe said. “There were 96 different people here and we learned to work as a team and when to be a leader and when to be a follower.”

BCA and the Appalachian ChalleNGe Academy in Harlan, Kentucky are both part of the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe program designed to offer a free alternative education program to at-risk youth between the ages of 16 and 18 which can provide the opportunity to redirect their future.

NGYC was established by the National Guard in 1993 as a result of the increasing high school dropout rate in the United States. Today, there are 40 programs in 28 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia. According to NGYC, more than 150,000 cadets have graduated from NGYC to date, changing their future and simultaneously changing America.

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