By Kimberly Wallis

Does your child want to finish high school but also feel the need to leave a traditional school setting? Are you interested in an optional education program that has a little military structure thrown in? Then maybe YCP is for you!

The Louisiana National Guard Youth Challenge Program (YCP)  completely supported by federal and state funds, provides education, meals, housing, and uniforms in a tuition-free alternative school setting. Other expenses, such as high school memorabilia (think senior ring) and supplemental food and comfort items are the responsibility of the cadet’s family.  For instance, you might  want to plan something fun for visiting days, such as bringing your cadet a favorite takeout or a barbecue grill to cook out on!

Cadets at the Gillis W. Long Center in Carville, Louisiana stand at ease shortly before they are released for a visiting day with family and friends. Photo by Kimberly Wallis

YCP is a highly structured military style program, with 24 hour a day supervision, where students will learn about self-discipline, leadership, and responsibility. The program encourages teamwork, personal growth, and development through eight core components: academic excellence, life coping skills, job skills, responsible citizenship, leadership, community service, physical fitness, and health/hygiene. 

For five months, students live on-site at one of the three campuses: Camp Minden, Camp Beauregard, or the Gillis W. Long Center. They work at their own pace academically under the supervision of certified instructors and receive individual counseling. Both male and female students are given the opportunity to obtain a High School Equivalency Diploma and take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB). 

Qualified students may simultaneously earn up to 15 college credit hours through a collaboration with Bossier Parish Community College. Additionally, those who are eligible to earn a basic skills certification through the workforce development program may choose from courses in welding, industrial manufacturing, drafting and design technology, or patient care technician.

When students return home, after completion of the program, the post-residential phase begins. For one year, they will have both a case manager and community mentors conduct follow-ups to assist them in continuing on a positive path. Mentors will help former students explore their options so they can make informed decisions on whether they want to enter the workforce, continue their education, begin job training, or enlist in the military. Although YCP is administered through the Louisiana National Guard, those who meet eligibility requirements may join any branch of the service they prefer.

Each camp offers two sessions per year and accepts students from all over the state and all walks of life. To become a cadet you must be a legal citizen, a Louisiana resident determined by current address, and between the ages of 16 and 18 on the first day of the program. However, start dates vary between camps. Closest to Fort Polk is Camp Beauregard in Pineville, which has classes beginning in January and July. Camp Minden, near Shreveport, has classes beginning in February and August. The Gillis W. Long Center, near Baton Rouge, begins classes in April and October. 

Students will need to fill out an application to bring with them when they schedule an interview. To print an application, go here or call the recruiting office at 1-800-CAMP-KID (1-800-226-7543) to request that one be sent to you.