GUERNSEY--It’s one thing to offer someone a second chance. It is quite another to carry it out.
But for almost 1,100 young men and women, the Cowboy ChalleNGe program has done exactly that.
Since 2005, Wyoming’s Cowboy ChalleNGe program has provided a way for kids between the ages of 15 and 18 get a fresh start. They come from all walks of life, all ethnicities and religions, different communities, from in and outside of Wyoming, But in a way, they’ve all come from the same place...where the choices they’ve made have earned tough consequences, the kind that can affect you for the rest of your life.
Cowboy ChalleNGe is about learning to live by the rules, building self-esteem, giving and getting respect, putting others first and ultimately, seeing the value in their education, and making the changes to reach those goals. Cowboy ChalleNGe is the road map that will put kids on a better course for a successful and happy, productive life. All they have to do is make the committment and see it through.
In addition to teaching life skills, the five-month residential program operated at the Wyoming National Guard Camp at Guernsey, also provides classroom time in core subjects to help students obtain their GED or put them in a position to transition back to school at home. To date, 738 graduates of the program have obtained their GEDs and many have gone on to attend college, find employment or enlist in a branch of the military.
Now in their 15th year, Cowboy ChalleNGe has worked to build a strong teaching environment and achieve complete accreditation for their educational program so that grraduates can actually obtain a full high school diploma rather than a GED. The process was lengthy and detailed, taking eight months start to finish. The program was initially evaluated by the Federal Depatment of Education to see if accreditation was a possibility. In-depth interviews with staff members were held, curriculum was reviewed and evaluated and the process was repeated to satifsfy the Wyoming Department of Education as required by the state.
Achieving full accreditation puts the Cowboy ChalleNGe program shoulder to shoulder for recognition as a public school. It is one of just seven programs across the nation to achieve public school accreditation.
Dave Salazar, Deputy Director of the Cowboy ChalleNGe, oversees the academics and says the benefits of achieving public accreditation are many.
“Now credits are transferrable for students and allows us to partner with other public schools. It also takes away the stigma some students feel receiving a GED rather than a full high school diploma. Students no longer have to say they were drop-outs because they can transfer from one program to another.”
The local economy will also benefit from the change as several more staff instructors may be hired. They also anticipate the addition of two counselors and three caseworkers.
Curriculum at Cowboy ChalleNGe includes Math, English, Social Studies and Science. In addition to the core components, students have opportunities to attend special job training courses in areas such as obtaining a Commercial Driver’s Licsense, becoming a certified phlebotmist, and construction and welding instruction. Instructors are provided through cooperating private business connections.
Community volunteers and staff embers have also served as instructors to teach skills such as crochet, embroidery, color guard, search and rescue, beekeeping, weightlifing photography and publications.
Even though all of the cadets’ time isn’t spent in a formal classroom, nearly everything they do is a learning process of some sort.
Cadets often say their favorite part of the program is the community service component. ChalleNGe cadets have done dozens of public service hours in and around the Guernsey area and southeast Wyoming. For some, it is their first experience at doing something for someone else just to help out.
The program has come a long way in a relatively short time. Started on somewhat of a trial basis in the early years, Wyoming Cowboy ChalleNGe has proven itself worthwhile and needed, justified by many success stories to its credit.
As the 39th class of cadets works toward their June graduation date, Cowboy ChalleNGe continues to be a place of redemption and promise--proof positive that sometimes all it takes to make a difference is a second chance.