LOS ALAMITOS, Calif. - After 70 days at Sunburst Youth ChalleNGe
Academy, some cadets have changed so much, they barely understand
the choices they once made.
“When you have to stand at a
position of attention for so long, you have time to think,” Cadet
Asia King said Sept. 19th at Joint Forces Training Base (JFTB) Los
Alamitos in Orange County. “It makes you think like, ‘Dang. Really?
I did that? What was I thinking?'”
King, 16, was having
disciplinary issues and falling behind at Cleveland High School in
Reseda before she entered Sunburst. Her Auntie Sandra King, who has
raised Asia since she was 5 days old, said Asia needed structure and
someone to be in her face.
Sunburst Youth ChalleNGe Academy cadets and their families were reunited
on September 19, 2015 for the first time in 70 days. The cadets performed drill routines for their families then enjoyed a meal and a few hours in the sun at the California National Guard's Joint Forces Training Base Los Alamitos in Orange County. Smiles and tears were plentiful, and proud parents said they already saw the growth in their children. (California
National Guard photo by Brandon Honig)
“She was going somewhere that she knows was pretty bad,” Sandra
said. “I can tell she has changed. She's talking more, she's more
open, a little more disciplined. I'm so proud of her. I'm glad that
we made this step for her.”
Asia and Sandra had just been
reunited at Family Day, their first face-to-face interaction since
Asia entered the residential, military-style school for dropouts and
at-risk teens run by the California National Guard. The academy's
four platoons wowed their families with drill routines then enjoyed
a meal and a few hours in the JFTB sun with their loved ones.
Asia has three more
months at Sunburst before returning to Cleveland High to complete
her degree. The curriculum at Sunburst is difficult, Asia said, but
she's getting all A's because the teachers and cadre are always
there to help and to make sure students don't fall behind. She's
confident she'll keep her grades up when she leaves Sunburst,
because the cadre taught her how to manage her time.
you're constantly busy and ... you want to write letters home. So
whenever you have free time, you want to do your homework, because
you know you need to balance your time,” she said. “So when you're
out there [at a different school], and you want to get on your
phone, you'll know to do your homework first.”
There was no
schoolwork the first two weeks at Sunburst. That's the pre-challenge
phase, when the cadre push you to the limit and “break you,” Asia
said, then build you back up.
“The cadre are strict when you
first meet them, and the first two weeks are tough. You're like,
‘Oh, I hate them,'” said Cadet Jazzmine Jackson, 16, who has four
classes to complete at Gardena High before applying to college and
pursuing a career as an obstetrician/gynecologist. “But then when
you start to get to know them, it's OK, because [you see] they
The cadets come into Sunburst with a lot of
different issues, Jackson said, and the cadre need to get them in
line. They don't allow any socializing during those first two weeks,
every waking moment is accounted for, and physical exercise is used
as punishment for any infraction.
“[The cadre] put on that
front like they're really serious and there's no jokes, because you
came here for a reason and they've got to hold that standard,”
Jackson said. “But they're caring and loving, and [at this point in
the program] everybody loves them.”
Parents at Family Day
said they immediately noticed their kids had greater confidence than
when they entered the program. Aracely Torres said her 17-year-old
son, Ivan, used to mumble when he spoke, but now he's clear,
outspoken and unafraid to share his thoughts.
and the potential that I knew were there, you can see it now,” she
said. “I've always told him that he was meant to do great things,
and he needed just a little bit more motivation. ... I knew he had
it in there, and I'm just amazed.”
The staff at Sunburst know
there's a good kid underneath every troubled cadet who enters the
program. Misbehavior or lack of motivation in school is often a
response to the student's home life, where a wide range of issues
could influence a child negatively.
Every parent whose child
enters Sunburst is therefore required to attend parenting classes –
and any parent who had not completed a parenting course before
Family Day was excluded from attending. Aracely Torres, for one, is
taking her role in her son's growth very seriously.
him, ‘Whatever you're doing in here, as hard as you're working in
here, I'm doing the same out there,'” she said on Family Day. “It
starts in the home, so I know that him coming here was not all [his
fault]. As a parent you need to take accountability for everything,
and I take my share of accountability for maybe the mistakes, maybe
the errors, maybe the bad parenting, whatever it was.
told him, ‘I'm not leaving you [here] and I'm not forgetting about
you. I'm going to work on making it better for when you come home.”
Ivan said he used to talk back to his mom and even almost got
physical with her once, and now he regrets his actions so much. On
Family Day, he felt nothing but love and appreciation for her and
said Sunburst had taught him a great deal about life.
learn to appreciate the things in life. You learn to love everything
because you don't take things for granted here,” he said.
“Everything here is a privilege, so I find life a privilege because
Sergio Rivera, 16, said he also has become more
grateful for the things he has in life, and he's looking forward to
spending more time with his family after Sunburst and cherishing
each moment. Sergio and his mom have written each other nearly every
day since Sunburst started in July, and he's glad to show her the
person he has become.
“I felt like I was doing the wrong
thing [before Sunburst], and I was trying to find a way to make her
proud, but I'd always fail and not do the right thing in school,” he
said. “I felt like I disappointed her. Now I believe that I can make
By Brandon Honig, California National Guard
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