By Steven Friederich/Washington Youth Academy
At commencement at Auburn High School, A.J. Robert held up his graduation cap. On one side was the familiar green and gold tassels of Auburn. Next to it, were blue and gold tassels from the Washington Youth Academy.
Robert accomplished the rare feat of two graduations in a single weekend, able to recover his full eight credits from the Youth Academy and immediately transfer those credits back to Auburn to immediately get his high school diploma.
“You know, I honestly didn’t think this day would ever come,” Robert says. “I just owe so much to everyone who has been there for me – all the cadre and staff at the Youth Academy. My family, my platoon brothers. This is just so incredible. I have a second chance here.”
Robert said he even had a potential job lined up, thanks to the resume and job interview skills he gained at the Youth Academy.
The Washington Youth Academy recently had 28 cadets from the Kent-Auburn area complete the program with every cadet receiving honors in academic achievement. In all, 143 cadets graduated from cycle 2017-1.
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. Students live on campus for 22 weeks to help them recover missing credits so they can go back to high school and earn a diploma. The school also teaches job skills and life-coping mechanisms.
Applications are now being accepted at mil.wa.gov/WYA for the Class of 2018-19, which starts Jan. 13, 2018.
Students from Auburn include Cadet Robert, Alicia Becker, Saul Cruz-Hernandez, Alexander Valle, Jesus Graciano-Garcia, Katrina Le, Briseida Lopez Valencia, Athena Malae’ulu, Luis Martinez-Garcia, Breanna Pina, Luis Reyes Garcia, Ethan Wallace, Leila-Loloma Wight. Cadets from Kent include Edgar Ceja-Vazquez, Maria Coronado, Josephine Derrick, Kenya Dominguez, Sky Dubois, Berenise Garcia, Jesus Gonzalez-De Santiago, Trey Hammer-Herring, Isaiah Kirvin, Derriona Sanders, Lindsey Smith, Brittany Williams and Kalicia Williams.
In addition, Juan Rodriguez, who lives in Pacific but attends Auburn Riverside, and Darian White, who lives in Renton but attends Kentwood High School, also completed the program.
Cadet Coronado is the second in her family to complete the program, with her sister Sophia graduating last December. (Previous story in the Auburn Reporter).
“I’ve made friendships here that will last a lifetime,” Coronado said. “This is probably the toughest thing I’ve ever had to do.”
“Cadets have performed 9,221 hours of service to the community and that is worth over $277,000 in value to the community,” Director Larry Pierce said during commencement. “Cadets learn the intrinsic value of giving back to others without the expectation of anything.”
The mission of the Washington Youth Academy is to provide a highly disciplined, safe and professional learning environment that empowers at-risk youth to improve their educational levels and employment potential and become responsible and productive citizens of the state of Washington. Established under authority of both federal and state law, the WYA is a state-run residential and post-residential intervention program for youth who have dropped out of high school or are at risk of dropping out.
After living on campus for nearly half a year, they return to their home community with the support of counselors and case managers and a mentor over the course of at least another year.
Steven Friederich is the public information officer for the Washington Youth Academy.
Hear directly from cadets on the academy’s YouTube Channel, including videos crafted by cadets and student speeches.