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NEWS | June 4, 2020

Mountaineer ChalleNGe Academy ongoing despite COVID-19 pandemic

By Maj. Holli Nelson West Virginia National Guard Public Affairs

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to maintain its grip on the United States and in particular, West Virginia, the Mountaineer ChalleNGe Academy (MCA) located in Kingwood, West Virginia, has developed innovative ways to ensure at-risk youth could continue the course and for some, earn their high school diploma.

West Virginia was one of the last states in the nation to announce its first case of COVID-19. As cases were reported, and schools were shut down across the state, it was evident that the MCA would need to send its cohort of cadets home to finish their education. On March 21, 2020, Maj. Gen. James Hoyer, the Adjutant General of the West Virginia National Guard (WVNG), made the difficult decision to shutter the Academy until it was safe to bring students back.

Traditionally, cadets go through a five-month residential phase located at Camp Dawson. With the pandemic altering educational paths throughout the nation, it was imperative that a plan was in place to ensure their education could continue without interruption, said Dianna Trickett, program director for the MCA.

“Immediately we started online education curriculum through various platforms and also created a private Facebook group where cadets could connect and share information with one another and their parents or guardians,” she said.

ChalleNGe Academy teachers held education sessions three times daily during the week. Also, each cadet was assigned an MCA staff member who made daily contact in order to assess any outstanding needs whether that be educational, physical or emotional, which was reported back through the MCA and WVNG leadership channels to ensure cadets were being taken care of while away from the Academy.

Upon their departure from the Camp Dawson facility, each cadet was given an option about their educational path which included continuing with online education and returning in June to complete testing for the program, discontinuing the online education and return to MCA in a future class, or discontinuing online education and removing themselves from the program. Of the 157 cadets who started the program in January of 2020, 108 chose to remain in the program and continue with testing, 41 chose to return in a future class and eight chose to unenroll.

“Of the kids who left when we asked them to go home at the beginning of this pandemic, we have all but a few cadets who have chosen to continue on in the program,” Hoyer noted. “I think it’s a great testament to our staff and faculty. It is exceptionally important that we continue to support these young folks as they have put in so much work during this unprecedented time to complete the ChalleNGe Academy and earn their diploma. I couldn’t be more proud of these young men and women.”

This week, the WVNG has been working with MCA staff and cadets to ensure they are prepared to take their end of course exam in a safe manner consistent with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines. COVID-19 testing is ongoing for the 100 cadets who met all the requirements to be eligible to return for their final test.

“I didn’t want to go home because I was so used to the routine [at MCA],” said Analisa Wood, a cadet from Dunbar, West Virginia, who is aspires to join the United States Marine Corps. “I was excited to be able to return, take my test and have the chance to earn my diploma. I have had so many opportunities [at MCA] that I wouldn’t gotten if I would have stayed in a regular high school, and I’m thankful for that.”

All staff and cadre who are assisting in the end-of-course exam were tested beginning on May 29, 2020, utilizing the WVNG’s mobile testing lab, which can deliver results in 15 minutes. The mobile testing unit has been dispersed to designated locations across the state where cadets are tested and, once cleared with a negative result, will be transported to Camp Dawson.

Beginning in October, the MCA is expanding into its second location in Montgomery, W.Va., where an additional 200 cadets will be afforded an opportunity to attend a National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program. Currently, MCA North graduates approximately 300 cadets each year with around 85% earning their high school diploma through the program.

MCA helps to redirect the lives of teens who have fallen behind in the traditional education system. With graduates from all 55 counties, MCA offers a safe, secure, structured training environment for volunteer youth who strive to improve their lives, enhance their futures and who become contributing members of society post-graduation.

Since its inception in 1993, the MCA has graduated 4,663 cadets from the program with 1,704 earning their high school diploma through the West Virginia Department of Education Options Pathway Program. In 2019, the MCA was honored as the National Guard Youth Foundation’s Program of the Year and it 2018 received the exemplary partnership award for student-centered support from The Education Alliance.

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Video by Sgt. Cheryl Madolev, Staff Sgt. Mickey Miller, Sgt. Davis Rohrer
WVNG Best Warrior Competition 2024 Video
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March 19, 2024 | 4:11
Soldiers and Airmen from the West Virginia and District of Columbia National Guard compete in the West Virginia National Guard Best Warrior Competition held April 19-21, 2024, at Camp Dawson in Kingwood, West Virginia. Best Warrior is an annual event where participants compete in a series of warrior training tasks including weapons proficiency on the M4 rifle, 9mm pistol, land navigation, physical fitness, combat first aid, tactical movements, communications, and professional development activities. Photos by 153rd Public Affairs Det., WVARNG