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Youth Academy graduates record number of cadets


A record number of cadets graduated from the Washington Youth Academy on Saturday, Dec. 20

The 144 graduates come from every corner of Washington state, including 19 from Tacoma, 13 from Yakima, eight from Bellingham and seven from Seattle. Rural areas also had representation from communities as small as Brewster and Graham.

The students will all return to high school to get their diploma or seek an alternative path to finish their high school education, such as a GED or by joining Running Start.

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. The free program places cadets in a 22-week intensive residential phase. For the following year, the youth receives intense mentoring and placement follow-up. The school is in Bremerton, but anyone from around the state can apply.

A Test of Adult Basic Education found that cadet skill levels increased an average of 2.3 grade levels by the end of the 22-week program compared to when the cadets entered the program. Remarkably, 132 of the 144 cadets achieved the maximum eight credits students could receive from their stay at the academy. The lowest number of credits earned by a completing cadet was 6.5 credits – still over a year’s worth in just 22 weeks. Only 29 of the cadets who entered the program had enough credits to be classified as seniors. Today, 108 graduates of the program have the credits needed to be classified as seniors.

Students who stayed at the Washington Youth Academy for the entire session had an average 49 percent increase in their cumulative high school grade point averages.

 “This journey is not about their past; it’s about their future,” Washington Youth Academy Larry Pierce said at graduation.

The class is the largest to graduate from the Youth Academy since welcoming its first class in January of 2009.


This year’s cadets donated more than 11,000 hours of service to the community with an estimated value of $273,000 to the community.

 “Since the day I was born, my parents and family have been trying to teach me to be a responsible, young adult,” said Cadet Danielle Drake of Bellingham during the graduation ceremonies. “However, as a teenager, I found ways to push them out and not listen to what they say. I was rebelling constantly and was stubborn. I skipped school consistently because I just really didn’t want to go.”

In her junior year, Drake said she found out she wouldn’t graduate on time. She said her enrollment in the Washington Youth Academy was a “miracle” that will now let her graduate on time.

“I hated every minute of training, but one thing I always told myself was ‘Don’t quit and live the rest of your life as a champion,’” she said. “… We have lived an unforgettable life-changing event that has made us stronger mentally and physically.”

More than 1,300 students have gone through the program since its inception.

For more information, visit the new website

Videos of cadet speeches and pictures available at