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Class #53 Completion Ceremony

A fresh start for Maryland teens

ChalleNGe Academy welcomes 153 candidates to Class #45

A fresh start for Maryland teens
A fresh start for Maryland teens

Story and photos by STACY SMITH

APG News More than 150 Maryland teenagers took a giant step toward turning their lives around after being accepted as candidates for Class #45 of the Freestate ChalleNGe Academy (FCA) during in-processing at the APG North (Aberdeen) recreation center July 12. “This is a second chance,” said Quentin Banks, Jr., director of Public Affairs for the Maryland Military Department. Freestate ChalleNGe Academys’ 1st Sgt. Job Stringfellow directs applicants during the in-processing of Class #45 at the APG North (Aberdeen) recreation center July 12. The “tough love” approach used by Stringfellow and his predecessors has helped graduate more than 4,000 cadets ince the program’s inception in 1993.

Freestate candidates begin adjustment period

“It’s an opportunity for the kids to possibly earn the GED.”

For 22 weeks, youths ages 16-18 voluntarily live in the academy’s residential program, a structured, disciplined, quasimilitary environment where they complete academic coursework and acquire essential life skills.

The program includes a 12-month post-residential phase, in which the teens work closely with mentors in their community.

Candidate says goodbye to Mom

Candidate says goodbye to Mom

After graduation, most cadets obtain employment, continue their education or vocational training, or enter the military.

During in-processing, the teens were issued uniforms, considered potential mentors, had their bags inventoried for required items, and their medical and academic records were reviewed and collected. Male candidates also received a military-style haircut.

FCA recruiter Kelvin Chandler said Class #45 had approximately 250 applicants, with 204 receiving acceptance letters to the program. Chandler recruits each crop of candidates from all 23 counties in Maryland. All applicants must complete a series of orientations and interviews with program staff.

He said Class #45 candidates are now in the acclimation phase – a two-week time frame in which they will adjust to their new environment and decide if they want to remain in the program. During this time, cell phones and other technology
are banned, but the candidates are encouraged to write and receive letters.

If they choose to stay, they will become FCA cadets during a crossover ceremony July 27.