KALAELOA, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Before you enter the Hawaii National Guard Youth Challenge Academy gate at Kalaeloa, check your excess baggage at the door.
"The youngster must choose to come to the program. They can't be put in here by anyone other than themselves," program director Rick Campbell said.
The academy mixes scholastics with military discipline. It helps 16- to 18-year-olds earn a high school diploma in 22 weeks, and learn life and job skills. Instead of peer pressure there's support from fellow cadets.
"Everybody knows what everybody is going through in here because they've all been through it," 16-year-old Ashonte Fair said.
The program can handle 100 cadets at its Kalaeloa campus.
"Our goal has always been to move up into the 125 graduates and 150 graduates," Campbell said. "That's what we want to do. We want to increase the number of kids that we can help."
It costs about $3 million to operate. Most of it is federal money. A bigger program means more dollars for more kids.
"We know we have a good product," Campbell said.
There are 32 youth challenge programs nationwide. Hawaii operates on Oahu and the Big Island. Campbell said there's no telling how sequestration and spending cuts might affect them.
Kalaeloa's current class of 83 cadets graduates in June.
"My plan is to go into the military and join the Army, either aircraft mechanic or I'm going to try to be a diesel mechanic," cadet Adam Chandler said.
Since it started in 1994, 3,600 teenagers have graduated from Hawaii's Youth Challenge academies.
"We try to stress to them that there are endless possibilities for them if they work at it. But they have to understand that it's not going to come easy," Campbell said.
About 7,000 Hawaii teenagers will drop out of school this year. The academy is an option if you can handle it.
To learn more about Hawaii National Guard Youth Challenge Academy go to ngycp.org.