Quasi-Military Safety Net In The Works For RivCo's At-Risk Youth
By Toni McAllister, Patch Staff
RIVERSIDE COUNTY, CA — A bill that authorizes the creation of the first National Guard Youth Challenge Program in Riverside County was signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom this week.
State Sen. Richard D. Roth (D-Riverside) introduced SB 228 earlier this year, which called for the establishment of an NGYCP in western Riverside County. The Challenge Program's mission is to "intervene in and reclaim the lives of" 16- to 18-year-old high school dropouts. The mission includes producing NGYCP graduates who have "the values, life skills, education, and self-discipline necessary to succeed as productive citizens."
Roth said the former Navy Operational Support Center Moreno Valley located at March Air Reserve Base was identified as a potential site for the Challenge Program. The California Military Department assessed the building for use as a Challenge Program and determined the location is suitable but requires significant modification and renovations, according to Roth's office.
Roth secured $500,000 in the state budget for a site location study. The study will validate the feasibility of continuing with the project at the base and future construction costs.
The Challenge Program was established by the U.S. Congress in 1993. The National Guard Bureau is responsible for executing the Challenge Program, and the California Military Department is a participant through a cooperative agreement. As a result, the Challenge Program is funded by federal and state dollars, making tuition free to eligible youth.
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To date, there are just three Challenge sites currently operating in California: Lathrop, Los Alamitos and San Luis Obispo. Though the planned Riverside County site would serve local youth, SB 228 mandates the facility also accommodate teens across the state.
Senate Bill 228 calls for at least a 22-week residential program and a 12-month post-residential mentoring period via the Riverside County site. The program would be conducted in partnership with the Riverside County Office of Education, according to Roth's office.
"We must do everything we can to help empower and uplift students and encourage them to finish their high school education and Challenge Academies have a long and successful history of doing that,” Roth said. “I thank the Governor for signing our legislation to authorize a Challenge Academy in western Riverside County. This coupled with the $500,000 I secured in the state budget for a site location study means we are on our way!"
According to data Roth's office culled from the California Department of Education, more than 47,000 California high school students dropped out of school in 2020-2021.
For local dropouts or those not progressing toward graduation, the Challenge Program would provide an alternative educational opportunity set in a quasi-military environment. Historically, over one-third of Challenge graduates receive their high school diploma during the residential or post-residential phase of the program, according to Roth's office.