By Steven Friederich, Washington Youth Academy/For the Reporter
Cadet Sophia Coronado of Kent said she was at risk of dropping out of Kentwood High School when she discovered the Washington Youth Academy, a quasi-military school to help give students a second chance by recovering high school credits.
Now, after living in Bremerton for the past 22 weeks, she will return to high school back in Kent and graduate on time.
“I am so excited and I just want to thank everyone who was there for me,” Coronado said. “If you want to succeed here, you need to start out every morning with a positive attitude. Decide, ‘Today is going to be a new day. I’m going to make today’s challenge better.’ And that’s what the Washington Youth Academy is all about. It’s all about the challenge.”
She was one of 19 teens from the Auburn-Kent area, who were part of the 149 cadets to recently graduate. The Auburn-Kent area frequently sends students to the academy, based in Bremerton, to help students who would otherwise be at risk of dropping out of high school recover lost credits.
Other teens who graduated include Elizabeth Andrade and Jacob Delay, who return to Auburn High School; Abraham Duarte, Lesly Ortega and Steffan Sprague, who return to Auburn Riverside; Tyrese Johnson-Hull of Auburn Mountainview; Victoria Hecht of the Federal Way Acceleration Academy; and Salma Jeilani of Kentlake.
From Kent, there’s Jose Aguilar Ortiz of Auburn Riverside; Sara Carmona-Vielle of Truman High School; Maxwell Dedmon of Kentwood; Noah Healy of Thomas Jefferson; Jumanhi Mustin of Kentridge; as well as Samantha Rogers and Brady Buch of Kentlake; and Mavis Faamuli and K’Lea Ford of Kent-Meridian, plus Jeovani Ontiveros Gomez of the iGrad Academy.
Cadets from each corner of the state attend the free residential school geared at teaching teens discipline and helping them recover credits so they can go back to high school and earn a diploma or seek an alternative path to finish their high school education, such as a GED or by joining Running Start. The Washington Youth Academy is a division of the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program. This year, the program graduated its 2,000th cadet. The state founded the school in 2009.
With a graduation rate of 90.1 percent, Youth Academy Director Larry Pierce said the Class of 2016 (cycle 2) had the best percentage to graduate from any class to date. Cadets can earn up to eight credits – almost a year and a half of high school – in just 22 weeks. For 2016-2, the average number of credits earned was 7.8.
Cadets also completed 8,181 hours of community service helping to clean a Sept. 11, 2001 memorial, tending to park trails, tutoring youth and donating blood to the Red Cross.
“They’ve learned a lot of new things that have increased and bolstered their confidence, discipline and teamwork,” Pierce said. “And, of course, our cadets invest a significant amount of time, energy, effort and a wide range of emotion in the daily life of the Academy. It’s not easy and sometimes just coping with the challenges and the stresses is taxing enough, but the cadets, you overcame these challenges.”
Coronado said she had experience doing an ROTC program before coming to the Youth Academy so the daily exercise component was never an issue for her. She said she had issues with homesickness, though. In the end, however, she says she’ll miss the academy.
Coronado said she came to the Academy to get more structure in her life, which is exactly what she got.
“There are lessons learned here that I’ll carry for the rest of my life,” she said. “Sometimes you have to get to the wrongs to get to the right. Sometimes you have to walk through the dark to get to the light but no matter how hard life gets, you have to fight.”