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Historic Graduation for LANG Youth Challenge Program

By Staff Sgt. Noshoba Davis, Louisiana National Guard Public Affairs Office and Megan Ready, LANG Youth Challenge Program Public Relations

PINEVILLE, La. – Families and friends of 58 Louisiana National Guard (LANG) Youth Challenge Program (YCP) cadets filled the Manship Theatre at the Shaw Center in Baton Rouge, Mar. 26.

This was the first in-person graduation since the COVID-19 pandemic began. To mitigate risk during the pandemic, families and friends watched graduations virtually via live stream. For this graduation, cadets were each given three tickets for family and friends to attend.

This graduation was also the first that cadets who passed the HiSET exam physically received their high school equivalency diploma as they walked across the stage. To make this possible, YCP worked with the Louisiana Community and Technical College System to expedite the process, allowing the cadets to receive their high school equivalency diplomas.

The mission of YCP is to intervene in and reclaim the lives of 16-18 year-olds, producing program graduates with the values, life skills, education and self-discipline necessary in order to succeed as productive citizens. This second chance education program offers young people an opportunity to improve their lives through participation in an innovative, alternative school.

Louisiana Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, Lt. Col. Kenneth Paul, director of Louisiana Educational Programs, Lt. Col. Barry Riley, director of YCP at Gillis W. Long Center, Command Sgt. Maj. (retired) Dennis Sapp, senior enlisted advisor of educational programs, 1st Sgt. Scott Mattison, commandant of YCP at Gillis W. Long Center and Chief Warrant Officer 5 (retired) Louis Joseph, former YCP Director and current Tangipahoa Parish councilman attended the graduation ceremony.

“Today, we celebrate you, but there’s a world full of people who will say you can’t, you won’t, it’s not possible, but that’s not who you are because you are here today graduating,” said Nungesser during his commencement speech. “You will say ‘I can,’ and most importantly, I believe you can.”

Nungesser also told cadets about his own business ventures and that there is no secret to success, but that they are their own secret to success.

“Always be true to yourself. As you travel through life your integrity and personal beliefs will be challenged. Remember to stay honest in your ways … when you leave here today, your education’s not over but just beginning,” said Nungesser. “Wisdom can come in the least likely places. Wisdom can come in your failures and when you hit rock bottom but guess what? Rock bottom can also be a great foundation on which to build.”

YCP is a two phase program. The first phase is a 22-week residential alternative school that offers cadets an opportunity to work on their education and life skills in a structured and disciplined environment that emphasizes teamwork, discipline, academic excellence and personal growth throughout the entire program.

During the residential phase, cadets are offered two education pathways: Course Choice Credit Recovery (CCCR) and HiSET. CCCR is designed for students who are doing well in school and must be referred by their school counselor, who will advise which courses the cadet needs to meet graduation requirements. As a state approved HiSET provider, cadets attend daily classes with certified instructors and work at their own pace to improve math and reading skills to increase their individual grade level. Students who meet state eligibility requirements are provided the opportunity to test for their high school equivalency diploma.

“My experience was slightly different from what I expected,” said Cadet Hayden Ryals, from Marksville. “I thought I would find myself alienated from everyone else, not really fitting in, but now that I’m looking back, the YCP staff and all my fellow cadets have become part of my family.”

Ryals was one of seven cadets awarded the rank of five star, the highest prestige that a cadet can earn. He was named the cadet of the cycle. He earned his HiSET diploma and plans to join the Army when he turns 17.

“I’m proud to say that the 58 of us here are victorious. You don’t have to be a five-star cadet or cadet of the cycle to be a winner. If you are standing here today graduating from this program it shows that you didn’t allow this program to conquer you, but you conquered it,” said Ryals.

The second phase is a 12-month post-residential phase that consists of case managers and community mentors assisting cadets putting the goals they realized in the residential phase into action.

Since 1993, more than 174,000 cadets have graduated from YCP nationwide. Of those, 26,000 are from Louisiana. Typically, Louisiana graduates more than 1,200 teens a year from their Camp Beauregard, Camp Minden and Gillis W. Long Center locations.

Louisiana is one of only two states in the country to operate three YCP locations and has the largest program in the nation collectively producing the most program graduates nationwide.

More than 80 percent of teens who graduate go on to continue their education, join the work force or enlist into the military. This class accomplished:

  • An average 2.8 grade level increase
  • 13 cadets earned over 100 hours of Bossier Parish Community College hours
  • 14 cadets were selected to participate in the LANG’s Job Challenge Program, a free vocational training program only for YCP graduates, to learn a specific trade, such as certified medical assistant, certified automotive technician, welder or culinary arts.
  • The top 14 cadets passed the high school equivalency exam with a score of 65 or higher
  • 2 cadets enlisted into the Army and are scheduled to attend Basic Combat Training this summer

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