“The Only Chance Program” | Dropouts Earn Diplomas at Freestate

“The Only Chance Program” | Dropouts Earn Diplomas at Freestate

BALTIMORE (WBFF) -- Five-thousand Maryland students will drop out of high school this year. A small percentage of them, just about 200, will end up on an army base in Harford County. They go at their own free will. About half will drop out. The other half may change their lives.

“They don't need an environment where there's compromise,” says Charles Holloway, Director of the Maryland National Guard Freestate Challenge Academy at Aberdeen Proving Ground.

For the past five months, the cadets at the Freestate Challenge have not left the base. They eat there, sleep there and learn there. The youngest is 16-years-old and the oldest is 19-years-old. They’re from nearly every county in Maryland, and each one is chasing the same thing.

“It's called a second chance program, but for some of our kids it's the only chance program,” says Holloway.

The program takes at-risk teenagers and puts them through the rigors of boot camp combined with a high school curriculum.

“You can't teach character, but you can develop it. That's what we do with these young men and young ladies here at the academy,” says Holloway.

Many of the cadets come from challenging backgrounds. One female cadet from Baltimore City told Fox45 if she weren’t at the academy, she’s likely be incarcerated or dead. Each cadet volunteers to give up their cell phones and computers for a 4:30 wake up call, physical training, loads of class work and harsh discipline.

“The discipline is lacking in public school. That's what we give. And the kids aren't against it. As long as you administer it fairly and evenly, they accept it,” says Instructor Joshua Barlow.

Barlow tells Project Baltimore that discipline involves physical activity like marching around the base or cleaning barracks. Each cadet made it to high school, though most read below a sixth grade level. But Barlow says when the discipline starts, so does the learning.

“We had a cadet that came here on a second grade level, and left here with a 10th grade level and a high school diploma. That’s a success story,” he says.

Next month, that success will continue when this graduating class marks the Academy’s 25th year. Some cadets will enter the work force, while others will go into the military. Most will obtain something that six months earlier seemed nearly impossible - a high school diploma.

“There's a population that is crying for our attention. They have a need for us, and it would service them to make them whole,” says Holloway. “That's the goal.”

There is no tuition at Freestate Challenge Academy. It does cost about $17,000 per student, but 25% of that is state funding and 75% is federal.

As part of its charter, Freestate Challenge Academy cannot advertise. For students who want to apply, education level does not matter. The only requirement is that the cadet can’t have any pending criminal charges, and they must be a Maryland resident. For more information, you can visit their website at http://freestatemil.maryland.gov/

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