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Washington Youth Academy empowers youth

Daria Aleshina shakes hands with Maj. Gen. Bret D. Daugherty during commencement while Washington Youth Academy Director Larry Pierce looks on. Photo credit: Steven Friederich, Washington Youth Academy

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The mission of the Washington Youth Academy (WYA) 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 academy, a division of the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program, was established under the authority of both federal and state law. WYA is a state-run residential and post-residential intervention for youth who have dropped out of high school or are at risk of dropping out.

The program is highly structured and uses a military basic training-type of model that emphasizes student discipline and personal responsibility. The program is entirely on a volunteer basis.

Students cannot be court-ordered to the program; they must volunteer," said Steven Friederich, the academy's public information officer. "(It) is entirely free, and students can receive eight high school credits if they complete the program" -- approximately 1.3 years of high school credits.

Classes are taught by certificated teachers, and the goal is to return graduates to their home high school to graduate on time with their peers.

Daria Aleshina recently graduated from the program and said it has helped her to achieve her goals.

"I personally wanted a challenge and to push myself," she said. "I thought about joining the National Guard, and this program would help me get ready for basic training."

As a result of the program, Aleshina is now on track to graduate high school on time and was able to improve her score enough on the ASVAB to qualify for the National Guard.

In addition to academics and physical fitness, she learned other life skills while at the academy.

"There were 47 girls in our platoon," she said. "We all had to learn how to live together coming from all different kinds of backgrounds. Over time, we learned each other's stories, how to get along, and most importantly, how to communicate and have teamwork."  

"There are eight core components to the program: academic excellence, leadership and followership, life-coping skills, job skills, service to the community, responsible citizenship, health and hygiene, and physical fitness," Friederich said.

"The program has three phases. Phase 1: Acclimation -- lasts two weeks and assesses the students' potential to complete the program. It involves physical fitness, anger management classes, how to get organized and much more.

"Phase 2: Challenge -- lasts 22 weeks, and students go to school during the week while continuing the military aspects of the program. The academy has nurses and a dietician on staff ensuring all students are receiving proper nutrition.

"In the last phase, Post-Residential, students are assigned a mentor and are followed for a year to ensure they stay on track."

Graduation Day often sees VIPs such as Governor Jay Inslee or Maj. Gen. Bret D. Daugherty, Adjutant General of Washington State, in attendance.

"Graduation Day is so emotional for the cadets," Friederich said. "At the beginning (of the program), they didn't want to be here, and by the end they don't want to leave. For many, the cadre have become mentors. They arrive as boys and girls and leave transformed into young men and young women."

If you know a youth that has gotten off track, the Washington Youth Academy is now accepting applications for the July 14 class, Cycle 18-2. Application deadline is June 2. Applications will continue to be accepted after the deadline as space allows. For more information, visit

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