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Column: Challenge Academy meets needs of state's at-risk kids

Two St. Croix County students were among 108 graduates of the National Guard Challenge Academy program on Saturday.

The cadets, from 43 counties across the state, have been studying at the Challenge Academy for the past 22 weeks.

The Challenge Academy re-shapes the lives of at-risk 16 to 18 year olds. It uses a structured, military-style environment and state-certified teachers and counselors to build cadets' academic abilities, character, self-confidence and personal discipline.

After graduating, cadets are paired with hometown mentors who offer guidance and encouragement in pursuing their new direction in life.

The program was featured in the New Richmond News last winter. The Academy has made a huge difference in the lives of many young people over the past 15 years.

More than 81,500 teens have successfully completed National Guard youth programs since 1993. More than 87 percent of cadets who finish the program receive their high school equivalency diploma (HSED) and more than 80 percent stay out of trouble with the law.

Those success figures prove that the Academy is an effective way to steer at-risk young adults in the right direction, saving society thousands of dollars down the road.