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Montana Youth Challenge Academy celebrates 25 years

Montana Youth Challenge Academy
Posted at 9:40 AM, May 15, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-15 11:44:06-04

HELENA — This summer is the 25th anniversary of Montana Youth Challenge Academy (MYCA). Once the current class graduates, the school will have helped more than 4,000 cadets.

From the website:

Montana Youth Challenge Academy is a residential academic intervention program on the campus of the University of Montana Western for 16-18 year old students who are seeking an opportunity for change. Designed by the National Guard Bureau and run through a cooperative agreement between the federal government and the state of Montana, the Academy offers military-style structure and discipline along with academic, professional, and life-coping skills students need to become productive citizens. Challenge empowers participants, whom we call cadets, to embrace responsibility, achievement, and positive behavior. It instills self-confidence, fosters ambition, and increases opportunities through job skills training, service to the community, and leadership.

"My mind was really foggy before I came here. I didn't know what I was going to do or what plans I had for the future," said 16-year-old Dominic DeFilippis.

He is one cadet who is attending MYCA.

DeFilippis said, "I had poor life choices before I came here. I was failing out of school, I was skipping school, I wasn't going down the right path."

His parents set up an interview with a recruiter for the academy.

"I don't think I've looked back since. It was a really good choice for me to come here," he said.

MYCA Cadets

The recruiter DeFilippis spoke with was Mark McGinley, who has been with MYCA for four and a half years.

McGinley said, "You're working with kids we call "at-risk kids," [but] no, they're not at risk. They just need a second chance sometimes."

MYCA is a 22-week program with a military structure.

Cadets getting ready to hike

Cadets wake up at 5:00 AM, get ready for the day, and have accountability to ensure everyone is there.

After six hours of school, cadets attend physical fitness training and have some downtime before bed at 9:00 PM.

Students only have access to technology for school.

"They learn quickly 'I can live without my phone. I can live without the internet,'" said McGinley.

The Montana National Guard funds 75% of the academy, with the state funding the other 25%—so it is free for children to attend.

Montana National Guard adjutant general Maj. Gen. Pete Hronek said, "We know that our youth have great potential, but there's just a few that before they get too far off the track, we bring them back."

Major General Pete Hronek

He visits the cadets several times a year.

"I call it my happy place. Being around young kids keeps me young," said Hronek.

While the program has a success rate of roughly 85%, cadets still face challenges at MYCA.

DeFilippis said, "I miss my mom and dad, which is pretty hard, but I'm definitely looking forward to graduating and getting through the program."