The Texas National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program—Reclaiming the potential of at-risk teens through mentoring, education, training and volunteer service.
One of the major social challenges facing the nation today is the plight of teenagers that drop out of high school before graduation. Every day, over 5,000 students drop out of high school in this country – that amounts to more than one million dropouts every year. In May 2006, in a Time Magazine cover story, the editors deemed America a “Drop-Out Nation.”
The Texas ChalleNGe Academy (TCA) is a volunteer program for 16 to 18 year-old teens that are at-risk of dropping out or that have already dropped out of high school. TCA offers a second chance for success to qualified students, without regard to race, sex, religious affiliation, or household income. TCA is an accredited high school through a partnership with the Rice Consolidated Independent School District in Eagle Lake, Texas. Cadets will work towards high school credit recovery, obtaining their G.E.D., and in some cases, Cadets may qualify to earn a high school diploma. The program of instruction is based on a military style training environment. Young men and women that volunteer to attend must be committed to completing the 5 1/2 month residential phase and the 12-month post-residential phase.
It is important to know what the Texas ChalleNGe Academy is, but it is equally important to understand what TCA is not. There is no military obligation for the students. It is not a juvenile detention center. It is not a court ordered boot camp. It is not affiliated with the Texas Juvenile Justice Department. It is not a drug or alcohol treatment center.
Purpose of the Texas National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program
To improve the education, life skills, and employment potential of youth who are disengaged from traditional educational settings. This is accomplished by providing military-based training, discipline, and structure, job readiness training, and alternative educational approaches through eight core components. These core components include assisting the participants to obtain a high school diploma or its equivalent; developing leadership qualities; promoting fellowship and service to community; developing life coping and job skills; and improving physical fitness, health, and hygiene.
The military-based training model is the foundation upon which the Challenge program is built. It closely resembles structured and disciplined entry level military training that teaches the participants the life-long non-cognitive skills necessary to become successful adults. Personal skills such as impulse control, self-discipline and self-regulation, teamwork, follow-through, persistence, and delayed gratification are taught in the lessons of the eight core components in the residential setting. Participants who were unable to be successful in a traditional school setting learn personal responsibility and accountability for their choices that translates well into marketable post residential opportunities.
The Texas ChalleNGe Academy, formerly Seaborne Conservation Corps began as an AmeriCorps Program in 1994. Other program sponsors included the United States Navy, the Texas National Guard and Texas A&M University at Galveston. The program transitioned to the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program in 1999 and is now operated solely by the Texas Military Department. Following Hurricane Ike’s devastating landfall on Galveston Island in 2008 the campus was relocated to Sheffield, Texas. Texas also opened a second campus in Eagle Lake, Texas in July, 2015. In August 2018, the Sheffield campus was closed and consolidated into the Eagle Lake campus. The program is funded through the Department of Defense with matching funds from Texas and private foundations/donations. Therefore, TCA is tuition free to the families we serve.
Goals of ChalleNGe
- To teach GED preparation and marketable skills through effective education and training
- To provide a safe haven in which to learn and grow in a structured and disciplined residential environment.
- To prepare a foundation of positive values that foster maximum educational and growth potential
- To serve by providing the opportunity to give back to the community through volunteer service
- To mentor cadets through a continuous relationship with a positive role model for 12 months following the 22-week residential phase
Evidence on the Effectiveness of the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program.
1. MDRC Report
2. RAND Corporation Report
3. CLEAR Report
The program requires a 17 ½ month commitment and is divided into two phases:
(1) The 5 ½-month Residential Phase
Challenge achieves the greatest impact on disengaged youth by bringing in those best suited to benefit from the structured and disciplined residential environment. It is vitally important in the recruitment/selection process to choose those individuals most likely to complete the program, thereby maximizing the program’s resources and providing the opportunity to a greater number of applicants. Rigorous screening and selection criteria are the cornerstone of this phase.
The Residential Phase encompasses two elements:
Acclimation – The first two weeks of the residential phase is designed to provide an entry level phase to orient each candidate to the rigors of the program’s environment and to determine a candidate’s willingness/ability to assimilate into the 20-week residential education program. The candidates will receive instruction in Conflict Resolution, Anger Management, the Post Residential Action Plan, Customs and Courtesies, Sexual Harassment, Hygiene, a Healthy Lifestyle, Close Order Drill and Physical Fitness. The candidate’s performance is evaluated twice daily by the Cadre for their potential to successfully complete the 17 ½ month program.
Residential Phase – Upon successful completion of the Acclimation Phase the candidates are issued their uniforms and sworn in as cadets during a small acclimation graduation ceremony. The cadets begin receiving instruction in the 8 Core Components. The application of a caring, disciplined environment and the eight core components develops character, strengthens personal skills, and guides cadets toward self-governance. They also begin Academic classes to recover/earn credits, prepare for the GED or earn their High School Diploma. The cadets can earn merits/promotions for additional privileges or receive demerits/rank reduction for improper behavior. There is one family visitation day and the cadets will have one home pass during Thanksgiving in the fall and Memorial Day during the spring. The Residential phase of the program is 20 weeks in length.
(2) The 12-month Post-Residential Phase
The 12-month post-residential, mentoring follow-through, phase supports the ChalleNGe participants in transitioning their newly formed skills into their home environment after they leave the ChalleNGe campus at the end of the Residential Phase. During the Residential Phase the cadets will develop their Post-Residential Action Plan (PRAP). The PRAP is a goal driven document that identifies what the graduate will pursue during the 12-month Post-Residential Stage and beyond.
During the 12-month post-residential phase, the program staff is assisted by mentors who support the program graduates in sustaining the execution of their plans for the future. The graduates will work with their mentors and Case Managers to maintain placement in continuing education (return to High School, vocational school or College), enlistment in the military, or employment. They must meet with their mentors weekly; two of the meetings must be face to face. Both the mentor and the graduate must report monthly to their Case Manager.
The 8 Core Components are broken into tasks where cadets must show improvement or demonstrate mastery to successfully complete the program. Passing the GED or receiving a High School Diploma are not required for graduation from the program.
All ChalleNGe participants attend daily academic classes that increase math and reading comprehension and prepare them for General Education Development (GED) credential testing, credit recovery, or a high school diploma. Evaluation of a cadet’s grade level progress during the Residential Phase is measured using the Test for Adult Basic Education (TABE). Cadets also explore the knowledge and skills required to pursue future educational opportunities.
Health and Hygiene
Cadets learn the value of a healthy, well-balanced lifestyle. ChalleNGe offers a holistic approach that combines physical and mental well-being as cadets explore the effects of substance abuse and sexually transmitted diseases on their physical health and well-being. Cadets learn the physical and emotional benefits of proper nutrition through participation in classes and structured group discussions.
Cadets prepare for long-term, gainful employment. Career exploration is accomplished through career assessment and interest inventories, job specific skills orientation and awareness. Specific classroom activities focus on development of individual resumes, completing job applications, and preparation for and conduct of job interviews.
Cadets develop strong character while identifying and applying individual moral and ethical standards to perform various roles and responsibilities in a structured group environment. They learn to willingly comply with established rules, regulations, and procedures; perform basic military customs and courtesies; define and recognize leadership skills, traits, dimensions, and components; employ leadership skills while performing in a leadership position; maintain a personal living area; and function as an effective team member.
Cadets learn skills designed to last a lifetime. Increased self-esteem and self-discipline are gained through a combination of classroom activities, group discussions, and a structured living environment. Cadets learn how to identify and self-regulate emotions, such as anger, grief, frustration, stress and how to utilize conflict resolution strategies. ChalleNGe provides the educational resources necessary to foster fiscal responsibility, helping cadets understand personal finance, basic banking, obtaining and managing good credit, and how to prepare and manage a personal budget.
Physical fitness becomes an integral part of cadet daily life. Cadets perform daily physical training based on the President’s Challenge, a test battery based on data collected from a variety of sources including the 1985 President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports National School Population Fitness Survey, the Amateur Athletic Union Physical Fitness Program, and the Canada Fitness Award Program.
Cadets discover their role in the democratic process and learn their rights, privileges, and obligations as United States citizens. The U.S. Government structure and processes, along with individual rights and responsibilities at the local, state and national level, are addressed in the classroom environment, in the student government process, and through practical experiences within local communities. Those who are eligible register for selective service and to vote.
Service to Community
Cadets realize the value and importance of giving back to the community while performing a minimum of 40 hours of service to the community and/or conservation projects in groups or on an individual basis. These activities provide additional opportunities for career exploration as well as enhancing community needs awareness in cadets.
Reveille comes at 4:45 am, by 5:00 am the cadets are in formation for physical training, academic classes are from 7:30 am through 3:00 pm and Taps is at 8:45 pm. It’s a full day.
0500 Physical Training
0600 Barracks Maintenance
0630 Breakfast Rotation
0720 Accountability Formation
1500 Snack/Accountability Formation
1515 Life Skills, Case Management & Job Skills Classes
1630 Small Unit Training; Drill Platoon, Recon & Weight Lifting
1730 Retreat/ Accountability Formation
1740 Dinner Rotation
1900 Hygiene/Personal Time
2030 Quiet Time
On Wednesdays we have an Awards Formation and a Guest Speaker.
On Saturdays the cadets perform Service to the Community.
On Sundays the cadets are allowed to worship, attend positive reinforcement events (if eligible) and participate in intramural sports.
Texas ChalleNGe Academy Graduates
FORMER AIR FORCE STAFF SERGEANT WORKING ON PREDATOR AND REAPER AIRCRAFT. NOW ENGINEERING TECH WITH SAMSUNG AND TEXAS AIR NATIONAL GUARD CYBER SECURITY SPECIALIST
Setting foot at Seaborne Challenge Corps, as it was known at the time, I had no idea that I’d ever be capable of anything noteworthy in my life. Being a ‘poor performer’ in the public school system basically drained me of any self-confidence or aspirations of a greater future.
Seaborne Challenge was the turning point for me, as most graduates will agree. I left that school with confidence and pride a mile wide and went on to do things that still surprise me to this day. But I never forgot where I found that confidence and the opportunity which unlocked that capability in me.
I was a Staff Sergeant in the Air Force working on Predator and Reaper drone aircraft. Since then, I’ve separated from active duty and began working full-time for Samsung in Austin, Texas as an engineering technician responsible for making microprocessors. I still hold my job with Samsung but have spent the last two years serving full-time with the Texas Air National Guard as a cyber security specialist working in a highly classified environment with some of the nation’s most cutting-edge computer systems. In this position, it is my responsibility to analyze threats to the infrastructure of the Air Force and develop tactics and techniques to mitigate those threats. I spend my free-time tinkering in robotics and engineering and have founded the Central Texas chapter of a community for operators of small civilian drone aircraft. This group’s primary goal is promoting the use of flying robots for civilian, recreational, agricultural, search and rescue as well as hobby purposes. Our larger community is 3000+ members strong worldwide.
The Texas Challenge Academy gave me the education, confidence and motivation to overcome adolescent mistakes. I could not have started this career and would not have experienced success without the Texas Challenge Academy.
US NAVY, DECORATED IRAQ VET, RICE UNIVERSITY’S BAKER FOUNDATION
Early in my youth, I began to experiment with drugs and alcohol. The experimenting led to drug addiction, running away from home, and dropping out of high school. In January, 2003, I was accepted into Seaborne Challenge Corps (Texas Challenge). I was selected Squad Leader and Platoon Leader, earned my GED and graduated in 2003. I enlisted in the US Navy at 18 and, during that time, participated in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“I grew up in a middle class family in the suburbs of Kingwood where I was once an ‘A—B” student and a competitive cheerleader at my 5-A high school. Early in my youth, I began to experiment with drugs and alcohol. The experimenting led to drug addiction, running away from home and school attendance issues. Shortly after starting my junior year of high school, I dropped out. At that point, my mom had felt that there was little hope for me. I would either end up dead on the streets or in jail at the age of 17.
In January, 2003, I was accepted into SeaBorne Challenge Corps where I was selected as Squad Leader and Platoon Sgt. I was also able to earn my GED and graduate in June.
In November, 2003, I enlisted in the US Navy at the age of 18. I spent Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve away from my family for the first time in my life, but that would prepare me for many deployments.
In March, 2004, I was assigned to the USS Nimitz in San Diego where I spent three years onboard. I spent eight months the Arabian Gulf in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. In November, 2009, I was onboard the USS Carl Vinson where we were dispatched to Haiti as first responders after the hurricane and later was in the Arabian Gulf when Osama bin Laden was buried at sea off the deck. In October, 2011, I was assigned to the Space and Warfare Command in San Diego. I was honorably discharged from the Navy after nine years.
I recently earned my associates degree and am enrolled in a Bachelor’s program. Without Challenge, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
AWARDED NAVY COMMENDATION MEDAL, 5 NAVY ACHIEVEMENT MEDALS, 2 GOOD CONDUCT MEDALS, NATIONAL DEFENSE SERVICE MEDAL, GLOBAL WAR ON TERRORISM SERVICE AND EXPEDITIONARY MEDAL, AND HUMANITARIAN SERVICE MEDAL.
USMC, DECORATED IRAQ VET, POLICE OFFICER
“When I was in high school, I did my best work in an in-school suspension program. When I had no structure, I spent my time with friends vandalizing property, drinking, and other things I shouldn’t, so my mother told me, it was either Challenge or jail.”
“When I went to Seaborne Challenge Corps (now TCA) in August of 2003, I learned a lot about leadership and service to others. I got my GED and while I was there I was inspired to serve my country as a Marine infantryman. I had my first deployment to Anbar Province in Iraq in March, 2005. During my second deployment in August, 2006, I volunteered for the advanced party to go in and prepare the area before the rest of the battalion arrived. Unfortunately, I was seriously wounded by an IED. After receiving a medical discharge, I returned to Austin and enrolled in Austin Community College on the GI Bill. I decided to serve the State of Texas as a police officer. Without my training at Challenge, I would never have come this far.”
AWARDED PURPLE HEART, NAVY/MARINE CORPS ACHIEVEMENT MEDAL, IRAQI CAMPAIGN MEDAL, GLOBAL WAR ON TERRORISM MEDAL, GOOD CONDUCT MEDAL, NATIONAL DEFENSE SERVICE MEDAL
ENVIRONMENTAL, HEALTH, AND SAFETY MGR CHEVRON PHILLIPS CHEMICALS
As a young teenager, I didn’t make the right choices in life and I wasn’t “the model child” by far. I started getting arrested at thirteen years old for stealing my parent’s cars and running away. I was always in the detention center for fighting and skipping school until finally I was forced to drop out in the eighth grade after becoming pregnant at fourteen years old.
It wasn’t until my daughter was born when reality finally hit me! All my friends were having fun, getting ready for high school and actually getting to enjoy their teenage years while I was a young mother with a world of responsibility ahead of me at such a young age. “How could I do this to myself?” I would ask myself that question every night as I cried myself to sleep.
Since graduation I’ve had several wonderful job opportunities and two beautiful daughters that both look up to me. My oldest daughter even remembers coming to visit me on family days. I’m currently an Environmental, Health and Safety Manger for Brock Service (industrial, construction contractor) at Chevron Phillips Chemical Plant in Baytown Texas. I’ve been in the industry for over 13 years and in management since I was 25 years old in a male-dominated industry. I am still utilizing the strong ethics and leadership skills that I received from Seaborne.
Thanks to Texas Challenge, I was blessed with a second chance to make something of myself, become part of something positive, learn the true meaning of “TEAM” and become someone my daughters can look up to with pride. I can honestly say that without the encouragement and genuinely caring staff, I wouldn’t be where I am today…taking with me priceless memories and lifelong friendships.
Texas ChalleNGe Academy Parents
Hello my name is Velma and my son is Danny Gonzales graduated the Texas Challenge Academy a few years back. I just want to say THANK YOU, from the bottom of my heart. We were at a point in our lives that we thought our son was not going to graduate at all, yet alone find a decent job. He was going through difficult times and he made the decision to join the Academy on his own. And I as a parent along with his stepfather just wanted to keep supporting him in every way. And thanks to God he made it with the help of everybody from the academy. They supported and gave him the confidence he needed to start believing in himself. I saw drastic changes within weeks of him being there. I love your program and would so recommend it to whomever may need it in the near future. Also, I am so glad to report that my son did join the Army and has been serving our military for almost four years. He’s stationed up in Hawaii and is very happy doing what he does. I look forward to seeing him succeed from here on out.
Sincerely, a happy mother and parent, Velma Vasquez.
Our son Ryan was on the verge of quiting school in 11th grade, doing drugs, and with a bad attitude. The recruiters came and Ryan accepted the challenge. Not only did Ryan graduate with a GED and HS DIPLOMA but the life skills he learned and retained have remained with him throughout his journey into manhood. Ryan is now a responsible adult living on his own and perusing plans for attending college. Thank you TCA!
Simon and Tracey Ortiz
“When my 16 year old son came home for his first liberty, we were so very proud of him. When we picked him up, he was standing up straight with his shoulders back, proud of the changes he had made. The change in him is a miracle. We sent a child and TCA is making him a man. He is so proud of what he’s been able to do physically, and still pushes himself beyond what he feels is his limit. Thank God for TCA. Our son is out there doing what he thought was impossible. He’s learned to have faith in himself. Our thanks and prayers go out to everyone at TCA.”
All our gratitude,
Mike and Deana
“Before my son went to TCA in Sheffield in January, he was on the wrong road, making bad decisions for himself. We were looking at fines for him not going to school. My husband and I went to the principal and told him we were out of answers and we had nowhere to go from here. He told us about Texas Challenge Academy. My son, Steven, agreed to go, and he was made to see that he does have a future and that he is worth something. He now has self-esteem, self-worth, and pride in himself. Because of Texas Challenge Academy and Steven’s hard work, he took the oath to join the Air Force to train to be a pilot – a dream of his since childhood.”
Proud parent of Steven Moore, Jr.
“I don’t know all of your names, but this thank you card goes to all of you. You have to have passion and belief in what you’re doing every day. I am amazed at your program and what you do. Because of your program, my son has been rescued. Thanks for caring about these kids!”
Cliff and Lisa Davis