News: Wyoming Youth ChalleNGe cadets become college students
Story by 1st Lt. Christian Venhuizen
CHEYENNE, Wyo. – In the three months 16-year-old Andrew MacKenzie has spent at the Wyoming Youth ChalleNGe Program, he’s earned his GED, enrolled in college, and went from wondering where he might work, to planning on becoming a nurse and a military officer.
“I never was able to finish my high school diploma, so for me to get my GED and start college, that’s fantastic,” MacKenzie, a native of Pinedale, Wyo., said. “I feel like I’m accomplishing something pretty good with my life.”
The pilot enrollment program for cadets at Eastern Wyoming College (EWC), in Torrington, Wyo., is the first time the cadets attended college courses, during the in-residence portion of Wyoming Youth ChalleNGe.
Wyoming Youth ChalleNGe is a program designed to help high school teens at-risk of dropping out of school, or who have dropped out. Students voluntarily enroll in the five-month in-residence program which helps prepare them to take the GED exam or earn high school credits. The program also provides anger management counseling, an anti-bulling program and life skills for the cadets.
Cadets enter the program with different ability levels. In the past, the cadets all take the same classes, emphasizing reading, math and other core curriculum.
Starting with MacKenzie’s class, Wyoming Youth ChalleNGe cadets who passed the GED exam early were allowed to attend classes on-line and on campus at EWC. Nine cadets are enrolled.
“It’s good for them and it brings a lot of benefits to them beyond the ChalleNGe program,” Wyoming Youth ChalleNGe Program director Don Smith said. “So far we’ve had some good feedback from several of the instructors, as well as the (EWC) administration.”
“They’ve accomplished quite a bit in a short amount of time,” said Andy Espinoza, computer applications instructor at EWC. “Some of them have already completed the majority of the course work in some of the classes.”
The cadets are enrolled in a mix of courses designed to introduce them to post-secondary education, Smith said. Courses include study skills (required for all EWC students), computer applications (Microsoft PowerPoint, Excel, Word, and keyboarding), and welding. Smith said each of the courses allows cadets to experience a different type of learning environment, from traditional classrooms, to computer labs, to vocational education.
While the courses are not traditional courses for a bachelor’s degree, the cadets are not traditional students.
“It’s a good example for them to be able to take some classes and we hope that it will encourage them to continue their education,” said Connie Woehl, associate vice president for outreach and learning at EWC. She’s helped to implement the pilot program.
“What I saw from the students from the Youth ChalleNGe was that they were very dedicated, they were doing their homework, they were asking questions, participating very well,” Woehl said of the cadets in the study skills class. “I thought, overall, the majority of them were doing quite well and they were owning up to their responsibilities.”
For MacKenzie, the classes and ChalleNGe restored his confidence in learning.
“With the way things were going I wasn’t so sure about myself,” he said of his life before ChalleNGe and EWC. He said he was taking GED classes, working and had no real prospects for the future. “I’m maintain an A-average in all my classes. So I’m thinking that college will definitely be in my future.”
Fellow cadet and college classmate Kenny Schooner, 17, of Riverton, Wyo., had a little more confidence about his success coming into college. “I had a feeling that I could, but I wasn’t too sure.”
Schooner said he prefers the courses that are more hands on to the computer courses. “I’m a kinesthetic learner and it’s a visual-audio class, so it’s a little bit harder for me to learn in it.” He said he wants to look into vocational education, possibly in his hometown, at Central Wyoming College.
Cadet Jackie Godinez, a 16-year-old from Kemmerer, Wyo., said she hated high school, which she often skipped. That’s why she was surprised about her current success at ChalleNGe and EWC.
“A little bit, yeah, because I never went to school,” said Godinez. She said her college experience has been different than her days in high school. “It’s alright. It’s pretty cool.”
Overcoming fears and misconceptions of college is a priority for Smith. He said that’s why he pushed for the partnership with EWC.
“It’s scary to go to college, especially at that age,” he said. “Whenever you take a little bit of that fear factor out of an event or a place, for some, it makes it more of a reality.”
Whether the program will be a reality for the next Wyoming Youth ChalleNGe class is still up in the air. Woehl said the instructors and the administration need to review how the cadets adjusted and if it’s in the school’s best interest. She noted the current successes she’s seen and the positives it brings to the cadets as well as to the school, including helping to fill seats for classes already on the EWC schedule.
Woehl said the courses the cadets enrolled in this year were already funded and had open slots. That meant no tuition costs for the cadets and no additional costs for EWC. Grants and funding for books and supplies were provided by the Wyoming Youth ChalleNGe Foundation, the non-profit organization that assists the state’s ChalleNGe program. However, Woehl said the school would be willing to assist in identifying financial aid resources for cadets if the partnership continues.
In MacKenzie’s case, his partnership with education may continue for many years. He said the initial three months he spent in ChalleNGe and with EWC, may help him continue his family’s legacy in the Navy. His grandfather is a retired admiral.