Sunday, December 10, 2023

Quasi-Military Safety Net Continues For California’s At-Risk Youth

State Sen. Richard D. Roth (D-Riverside) introduced SB 228 earlier this year, which calls for the establishment of an NGYCP in western Riverside County to serve teenagers throughout the state. The Challenge Program’s mission is to “intervene and restore the lives of” 16- to 18-year-old high school dropouts. The mission includes producing NGYCP graduates with “the values, life skills, education, and self-discipline necessary to succeed as productive citizens.”

Roth said the former Navy Operational Support Center Moreno Valley located at March Air Reserve Base has been identified as a potential site for the Challenge Program. The California Department of the Military evaluated the building for use as a Challenge Program and determined the location was suitable but required significant remodeling and renovation, according to Roth’s office.

Roth secured $500,000 in the state budget for the site location study. The study will confirm the feasibility of continuing the base project and future construction costs.

The Challenge Program was established by the US Congress in 1993. The National Guard Bureau is responsible for implementing the Challenge Program, and the California Military Department is a participant through a cooperative agreement. As a result, the Challenge Program is funded with federal and state dollars, making tuition free for qualified youth.

Currently, there are only three Challenge sites currently operating in California: Lathrop, Los Alamitos and San Luis Obispo. Although the planned site in Riverside County will serve local youth, SB 228 mandates that the facility also accommodate teenagers throughout the state.

Senate Bill 228 calls for at least a 22-week residential program and a 12-month post-residential mentoring period through the Riverside County site. The program will be conducted in partnership with the Riverside County Office of Education, according to Roth’s office.

“We need to do everything we can to help empower and uplift students and encourage them to complete their high school education and Challenge Academies has a long and successful history of doing that,” Roth said. “I thank the Governor for signing our law to authorize A Challenge Academy in western Riverside County. This combined with the $500,000 I got in the state budget for a site location study means we are on our way!”

According to data obtained by Roth’s office from the California Department of Education, more than 47,000 California high school students dropped out of school in 2020-2021.

For local dropouts or those not progressing toward graduation, the Challenge Program will provide an alternative educational opportunity set in a quasi-military environment. Historically, more than one-third of Challenge graduates have received their high school diploma during the residential or post-residential phase of the program, according to Roth’s office.

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