One of the major social challenges facing the nation today is the plight of teenagers who cease to attend high school before graduation. In 1990, approximately 1,512 students were dropping out of school each day. In 1993, there were approximately 3.4 million people in the United States, ages 16-24, who were high school dropouts. Under-skilled and undereducated, they are adrift in a high-tech society that requires ever-increasing literacy, more education, and technical skills for even minimum wage jobs. Many become dependent upon social services, some become involved with the juvenile justice system.
Large segments of Mississippi youth do not complete high school. Approximately eight thousand youth drop out of the public school system in Mississippi each year. Further, over forty percent of the residents in the State of Mississippi who are twenty-five years of age or older did not graduate from school, and eighty-seven percent of the individuals who are incarcerated in Mississippi did not graduate from high school. The lack of adequate educational preparation for many of Mississippi’s residents has brought unnecessary economic hardship due to many individuals failing to be a high school graduate, or by not having a high school equivalency diploma.
Confronting this issue, Congress, in the 1993 Defense Authorization Act, provided funding for the National Guard Bureau to conduct a pilot program for the purpose of determining whether the life skills and employment potential of youths who dropout of secondary school can be significantly improved through military-based training, including supervised work experience in community service and conservational projects. Formally called the National Guard Civilian Youth Opportunities Program, more simply known as ChalleNGe, this program was implemented in 15 states by the end of 1994 and has grown to 26 states currently with approximately every state petitioning to have this program in their state.
In implementing the program, the Mississippi National Guard adopted features that characterize successful intervention programs: a residential model, strict discipline, structured long-term follow-up, and diverse participants.
The Residential Phase is a 22-week military-based training and education program that focuses on the development of the whole person. The National Guard Bureau developed and is using an intervention model with eight core components:
- Leadership and followership
- Service to the Community
- Job skills
- Life coping skills
- Education excellence
- Responsible citizenship
- Health, sex education and nutrition
- Physical fitness
The Post Residential Phase is the one year period following graduation from the Residential phase. The Post Residential Plan calls for the assignment of a mentor to provide advice and assistance, regular monitoring of the graduate’s status, progress in obtaining employment and/or pursuing further education, and providing support within the means of the program.
The Mississippi National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Academy creates an environment for young men and young ladies to take control of their lives and to accept the responsibility for their past, present, and future behavior. In our five month phase, we witness a miraculous metamorphosis. Whether it be the average kid from down the street or an “at-risk” youth, all can see the difference from day one to month five. Our students develop pride, self-respect, discipline, direction, ethics, values and educational skills. In every graduating class, we have had ACT scholarships and Community College scholarship recipients. Many others were college bound using grant or parental assistance, and a few entered civilian and military employment. The Mississippi National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Academy has currently a 97.6 percent success rate of our graduates either entering college, the work force or the military.
The Mississippi ChalleNGe Academy graduates two classes each year (beginning in January and July) with 266 students being selected for each class.
Mississippi National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Academy Building 80 Halloran Ave. Camp Shelby, MS 39407-5500