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Youth Challenge Academy receives record number of applicants in 2023

As the Washington Youth Challenge Academy starts a new class, they have yet again received a record number of applicants for the residential program at the campus in Bremerton, Wash.

“We had 534 young adults apply for this current cycle. That’s a record number of applicants and currently have 163 cadets on campus for the acclamation phase,” said Amy Steinhilber, Director of the Washington Youth Challenge Academy.

In 2023, more than 1,000 applications were submitted for consideration to the WYCA. In the last two years, the program has received more than 1,700 applications.

“We only have room for 165 cadets each cycle. It would be great to be able to have more but we don’t have the space,” said Chris Acuña, the commandant of cadets for the Washington Youth Challenge Academy.

Acuña, who has been at the WYCA since the program started has seen the program change lives and knows the power of the program is the in people who have completed it.

“With more than 3,000 graduates and advocates across the state, the word of mouth about the difference the program is making is out there now,” Acuña said.

Focused on empowering teens of various income levels and histories to improve their educational levels and employment potential, the WYCA helps teens become responsible and productive residents of the state of Washington. Designed for anyone 15-18 years old from the state of Washington who is a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, the program is incredibly popular for helping turn around the lives of kids who are struggling in school or in danger of dropping out. The program currently is able to support about 110 males and 55 females at the campus residence and in the classrooms but often receive more than double the number of applicants for one of their two cycles each year.

The WYCA includes a 22-week intensive residential phase and a two-year post-residential phase where the youth receives intense mentoring and placement follow-up. Program graduates can recover up to 8.0 credits (approximately 1.3 years of high school credits). Credits are approved by OSPI and taught by certificated teachers.

“They have to do high school work. The unique thing about the academy is the cadets have to earn the opportunity, the willingness to earn their spot, and then they have to earn the right to stay,” Acuña said. “That drive helps them succeed in the program and graduate.”

The program incorporates a highly-structured format with an emphasis on student discipline and personal responsibility to provide a positive, safe and secure learning environment.

“They have to earn the fun time, they learn do the work first, that is how you earn the fun later,” Acuña said. “They earn those freedoms.”

This cycle is part of the new youth challenge model pilot of a two-year post residential phase following graduation.

“We are one of the states piloting this model, and it is really just to ensure that we are able to provide support and monitor their growth and develop,” Acuña said.

The January 2024 class is accepting applications now, and individuals interested can apply at .