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Record number graduates from Washington Youth Academy


Adriana Patino Guzman of Pasco flashes a peace sign in the hallway at Bremeron High School. 

CONTACT: Larry Pierce, Director, Washington Youth Academy (360) 473-2612
Amy Steinhilber, Deputy Director, Wash Youth Academy (360) 473-2621

The Washington Youth Academy celebrated the commencement of a record 152 cadets on Dec. 19 – more cadets than any previous class in the history of the Academy, established in Bremerton in 2009.

Cadets from each corner of the state attend the free residential school, geared at teaching teens discipline and helping them recover credits so they can go back to high school and earn a diploma or seek an alternative path to finish their high school education, such as a GED or by joining Running Start.

There were actually more cadets that went through the commencement ceremonies than actual beds in the bunkers with 50 beds in each of the three platoons, prompting cots to be setup in the hallway for the entire 5-and-a-half-month cycle.


Cadets celebrate their graduation on Dec. 19.

Youth Academy Director Larry Pierce credited the high retention rate to a robust application and interview process helping find strong candidates for the program, as well as a healthy, two-week acclimation period, where candidates can get more of a feel for the strict discipline needed for the voluntary program and decides it’s not for them.

“This is our 14th class and our largest one to date,” Pierce said, adding that the Washington Youth Academy has achieved “one of the top graduating rates in the nation.”

“The cadets became teammates and they changed together and prevailed together and they’re here today and as proof of that, they’ll walk across the stage and commence from the youth academy back to their home lives.”

The highest number of credits possible for the 22-week session is 8 credits. Comparatively, a full year of high school is 6 credits. Remarkably, 133 students earned all 8 credits. Before students entered the Academy, the test of Adult Basic Education put the students’ grade level at 6.7 – not quite 7th Grade. Near the end, a new test showed the average grade level for students at 9.2 for a gain of 2.5 grade in just 22 weeks. Only seven cadets began the program with enough credits to be classified as Seniors but 102 completed the program with Senior classification. 

Students had an average GPA for Academy courses of 3.4, which is B+.


Congressman Derek Kilmer shakes the hand of Cadet Manuel Garcia of Pasco.

“I’d offer you a challenge: Take the lessons you’ve learned here and apply them back in your community,” Congressman Derek Kilmer told the cadets at commencement. “Take the leadership skills you’ve learned and be a positive influence in the lives of your friends, your family, your school and your community.”

All of the cadets also received Community Emergency Response Training, which will help them and their communities help during disasters. Cadets also donated 7,992 hours of community service to the local area.

State Sen. Ann Rivers served as speaker during the commencement ceremonies.

“CERT training is something you’ll be able to use in your own family, your own community and all over the state,” Rivers told the cadets and their families. “You can take it with you and teach others and that’s really exciting. You can hold your head high because you know your journey has just begun.”


Cadets tell Master Sgt. Darwin Wiggins that he was their favorite because he always told them the truth. “I just tell you the way it is,” he replied. “You just listened.”

The mission of the Washington Youth Academy is to provide a highly disciplined, safe and professional learning environment that empowers at-risk youth to improve their educational levels and employment potential and become responsible and productive citizens of the State of Washington. The Washington Youth Academy is a division of the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program. Established under authority of both federal and state law, the WYA is a state-run residential and post-residential intervention program for youth who have dropped out of high school or are at risk of dropping out.


Pacifique John of Burien breaks into a smile during the ceremonies.

The next class starts on Jan. 16, 2016. Applications are still being accepted for female candidates. Applications for male candidates will likely be wait listed until the cycle after that starts in July. Learn more about the program online and watch a four-part documentary on YouTube.