HARLAN Co., Ky. (WYMT) - UPDATE 12-12-14 11 p.m.
More than 90 cadets walked across the stage at Harlan County High School Friday night for the Appalachian ChalleNGe Academy's fifth graduation ceremony.
"I don't think very many of them thought they were on track to be able to accomplish what I think they're going to be able to do now," said Major General Edward Tonini.
This group accumulated more than 300 high school credits, setting a new record for the academy.
Cadet Christian Lay is from Texas. He said he is proud of what he's accomplished throughout the past five months.
"I actually made up 11 credits while I was here," said Lay. "I basically knocked off three years worth of school, I'll go back as a senior and graduate high school in May."
The cadets also completed more than 5,000 community service hours.
"For me it's self-gratification," said Kourd Macgregor. "It means I proved something, not only to my family and friends, but also to myself. I can do anything."
This program is relatively new in Appalachia, but everyone involved said you cannot ignore the difference they're making and the message they're sending to cadets.
"They should never accept defeat," Major General Edward Tonini said. "They can do whatever it is that they want and whatever they're willing to put effort in to achieve."
For more information on the Appalachian ChalleNGe Academy, visit http://www.acaharlan.org.
GRAYS KNOB, Ky. (WYMT) - Today was the first day of the new session for the Kentucky National Guard Youth ChalleNGe at the Appalachian ChalleNGe Academy in Harlan. The program is designed to get at-risk youth in Kentucky back on track.
The Kentucky National Guard sponsors the military-themed program, but the Appalachian ChalleNGe Academy is not a military school. The cadets are boys and girls ages 16-18.
Parents came to the Appalachian ChalleNGe Academy on Sunday, saying goodbye to their kids who they will not see much of over the next five and a half months.
"We're going to miss him but honestly with this type of environment, I think it will be the best for him," said Robert Seals, a parent of a new cadet.
Sunday was "Intake Day." New cadets received their gear, medical evaluations, and bunk assignments. For some former cadets, being here triggered memories of their "Intake Day."
"As soon as I walked through the front doors, I saw what it was going to be like and I was ready to leave. I started missing people as soon as I got here," said Wilson Meade, a former cadet.
"I thought it was the most ridiculous place ever," said Jessica MacMillan, a former cadet.
Wilson Meade says if it was not for the Kentucky National Guard Youth ChalleNGe program, he would have continued going down the wrong path.
"If I wouldn't of come here, I would be in jail...Everything I was doing was just wrong, and I was eventually going to get caught," Wilson said.
Values, life skills, education and self-discipline are stressed during the program, which lasts 22 weeks. Qualities one former cadet says played a major role in his new outlook.
"I can really see that I've changed a lot. My confidence and self esteem are a whole lot better. I walk with my head up instead of down. I look at the future, how things are going to help me," said Isaiah Giles, a former cadet.
When this current class graduates from the Appalachian ChalleNGe Academy in December, there will be a year-long mentoring program provided to each cadet.
For more information on how to apply for the program, call toll free at 1-855-596-4927, or (606) 574-0303. You can also visit www.acaharlan.org .