Seven weeks complete. Fifteen remain. A daily routine has been achieved, but the ultimate goal, to graduate the 22-week in-residence program June 10, is still being worked toward.
The cadets of Wyoming Cowboy ChalleNGe Academy class 32 reported to the program on a cloudy day in Guernsey, Wyoming, Jan. 8. Since initially embarking in the program, they have encountered unpredictable difficulties and successes.
Angel Burson, 16, from Burlington, Wyoming, said her biggest struggle was trying to find coping skills to actually stay in the program, excel in academics and graduate.
“The academics here aren’t too bad. I’ve been working on getting caught up from my freshman year. I can still return to high school if I get my GED, but the program helps me catch up on the things I missed in high school, which is really nice,” she said.
Academics are a main focus of the program and consume six hours of the cadet’s daily schedule. Many of the candidates coming into the program have either dropped out of high school or have fallen severely behind. WCCA offers them two educational options in order to continue their education.
“One pathway is the High School Equivalency Certificate and the other pathway is Apex. Apex is our accredited credit recovery system,” said Angie Schultz, lead instructor for WCCA. “HSEC is not limited, but Apex is. Apex is a way to help our cadets return to high school once they have graduated our program. To date we have graduated 835 cadets with 608 GEDs earned and 29 high school diplomas presented. In class 32 alone, there is the chance of adding a couple high school diplomas to that number.”
“If I can make it through the program and get that high school diploma on graduation day, it’ll all be worth it,” said Tyger Rodriguez, 17, of Torrington, Wyoming.
Although the program offers varying education avenues, it mirrors public school.
“It’s like going to school normally, except you also have the military standards of how to enter the classroom, sit down, and use the latrine. In normal school you wouldn’t have to worry about that, but you do here. It has a lot of structure,” added Samantha Clinger, 16, from Thermopolis, Wyoming.
Structure not only means abiding by certain standards, by also individualizing the educational plans to fit each cadet’s needs.
“Academically, we do everything we can to ensure success. Reading the information on potential candidates and talking with parents/guardians really helps us individualize their academic plan,” said Schultz.
The decision making process is also another important facet of the program. All the cadets agree that the quicker you learn to make smart decisions and abide by the rules, the easier the program becomes – for everyone.
“A lot of the little things matter when you come here. If you learn the little things, like not talking in the hallway, latrine or the (dining facility) and how to stand in the hallway, then you’ll be a lot better off. If you do these things correctly then the sergeants won’t have anything to adjust you on,” said Rodriquez.
If a cadet does find themselves being corrected, it usually involves some type of physical training to reinforce the expectations, such as a set number of pushups a cadet must do. However, PT isn’t just used for behavior modification.
“We’ve gone on runs, flipped tires, and carried sandbags,” added Rodriquez, who said he’s enjoyed it. “PT has brought our class closer together.”
Cohesiveness is critical in this environment. Cadets quickly realize that they will spend a majority of their time together in the classroom, marching, doing PT and in their sleeping bays.
While much of their time is spent together, they still have their individual fears.
“When I first got here I had a lot of trouble making eye contact with people. I stumbled over my words a lot. The program has improved my confidence and it’s much easier for me to talk to people and maintain eye contact. I’ve learned leadership skills as a squad leader which has been a great feeling,” Clinger said.
“In regular school, I was bullied a lot. Coming here was like facing my demons, but it’s getting easier each day,” she added, alluding that her confidence and courage have improved just by being in the program, so much so that she is now considering going to college, an idea that was academically out-of-the-question before starting WCCA.
“By graduation I see myself maybe going to college,” and then with a slight pause and smile, she added, “OK, most likely going to college.”
The cadets of class 32 have grown up a lot in seven weeks. They have learned to deal with adversity independently.
“It’s a great feeling knowing how much I’ve changed and how much of a better person I’ll be when I go home. I can’t wait for my family to see me walk across that stage,” said Robert Renquist III, 16, of Casper, Wyoming.
The cadets still have much work cut out for them during the next 17 weeks and graduation isn’t guaranteed for any of them. They admit the coming months won’t be easy and that each day comes with its own set of struggles. They also admit that the coping skills, confidence and attitude that’s been instilled in them since Jan. 8 is greatly impacting their ability to handle these struggles.
Making it to graduation day June 10 will rely heavily on academics and attitude. A challenge that each cadet overcomes one day at a time.
Note: Stories updating the progress of WCCA Class 32 will appear periodically throughout the residential and mentor phases.