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Article of Interest - At-risk

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Bridges4Kids LogoAcademy Offers At-risk Youth a Second Chance
Michigan National Guard aids students at Battle Creek site.
by Susan Vela, Lansing State Journal, January 18, 2004
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Brandon Nichols has vivid memories of his first two weeks at the Michigan Youth Challenge Academy in Battle Creek.

At this time last year, the Lake Odessa teen was waking at 5:30 every morning.

As required, he would stand outside before the Michigan National Guard members who run the military-style training center, and he'd notice fewer faces in the crowd.

Almost every day, someone walked away from the program that gives Michigan's at-risk youth another chance at obtaining a high school diploma or General Educational Development, or GED, certificate.

Nichols ultimately survived the academy's two-week "pre-challenge" phase. He offers encouragement to the 150 youths who started at the academy this past week.

"I would just think 'Why am I here?' " he said. "It makes me feel good to know I completed something like that. That was the best experience of my life."

About 15 mid-Michigan youths are part of the five-year-old academy's current class. If they survive the academy's first two weeks, they'll begin the next 20-week phase of the program, which will keep its focus on academics and physical fitness.

The program is strictly volunteer. Many of the youths learned about the program from the courts, said Larry Beck, the academy's admissions coordinator.

"They have nothing when they come here," he said. Graduating from the program "gives them a sense of pride in themselves."

Beck would not let the new class members talk to the media. He does not want them to be distracted.

Nichols said they'll need to focus.

He had dropped out of Grand Ledge High School and was partying almost every night when his mother, JoAnn, told her bored son about the free academy.

After receiving his military GED in July, he became a restaurant supervisor at Pickerman's in Delta Township.

He also took classes at Kellogg Community College in Battle Creek. He wants to become an electrician and will begin his studies next week at Grand Rapids Community College.

Michigan Youth Challenge Academy

Purpose: A 22-week program to help at-risk students from throughout the state obtain their GED or high school diploma.

Administered by: Michigan National Guard.

Why: To help at-risk youth improve their lives.

Daily routine: Awake at 5:30 a.m. for a day of classes, community service, marching, fitness and vocational training.

Number of graduates: 267

Tuition: Free

Success rate: Less than 1 percent have run-ins with the law after graduating. A third of the graduates go into the military and a third find employment. Another third seek more education, such as college or trade schools.

How to apply: Call (800) 372-0523 or visit


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