Cadets from the Capital Guardian Youth Challenge Academy, or CGYCA, have something to celebrate. 49 members of the program graduated in a completion ceremony at the District of Columbia National Guard’s Armory Dec. 10.
The Capital Guardian Youth Challenge program is regarded as a premier program for at-risk teens. Cadets participated in learning military customs and courtesies while also attending classes in Math, Science, Social Studies and Language Arts. More than 70 students began this journey together but only those that had the grit and toughness to finish made it to graduation day.
Located in Laurel, Md., the academy is a life intervention, dropout reintegration, and GED preparatory program, run by the District of Columbia National Guard in partnership with the Office of the State Superintendent of Education for the District of Columbia.
Brig. Gen Aaron R. Dean II, the Adjutant General of the District of Columbia National Guard and Raynald Blackwell, CGYCA director, recognized the cadets who finished the program. Also in attendance was Kevin Donahue, Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice, and U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Bradley Baker.
“Each and every one of you should be proud to be here,” said Dean. “Even if you didn’t get your GED, keep trying. Don’t ever give up. Your family and friends believe in you and you now have the tools to define your life with distinction.”
The cadets, hailing from all parts of the District of Columbia, were recognized for their exceptional performance and moving onto the next phase of their life.
“Working with the teens was such an amazing experience. I saw how the students changed over the time through this program and persevere.” said Staff Sgt. Shadonne Leftwich, cadre team member for the DCNG CGYCA. “Students learned to overcome obstacles and live as upstanding citizens for the community. The program helped these young people become leaders.”
Cadets trained for almost 6 months prior to taking the GED exam to sharpen their skills. Their training focused on a range of academic subjects and military training.
“I felt like I was in a traditional school, but they focus more on the individual. I’ve never met more dedicated teachers in my life,” said Cadet Daniel Logan. “I was two years behind in high school, but now with the help of this program I have surpassed my peers and look forward to the next challenge of trade school.”
Academics wasn’t the only lesson learned in this group. Hard work, camaraderie and perseverance, critical skills in the military world and in the civilian world were some of the things the cadets said they took away from the program.
In the end, the cadets were proud of their accomplishments and bittersweet over having to separate back to their civilian lives.
“They accepted the challenge to become the best version of themselves,” Leftwich said. “This is an accomplishment these cadets can be proud of.”