Amongst the training of the U.S. military’s elite at the Joint Forces Training Base, Los Alamitos, a California Military Department base, the National Guard showed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and a congresswoman on Oct. 13 how they help the state’s youth improve their lives with education.
Rep. Grace Napolitano, D-Norwalk; Brig. Gen. Mark Toy, USACE South Pacific Division commander; Brig. Gen. (CA) James Gabrielli, Youth and Community Programs Task Force commander; Col. Steven Buethe, chief of staff for the program; and Lt. Col. Joel Armstrong, Sunburst Youth Academy Director, all gathered to discuss the educational opportunities at JFTB and future projects they are synergizing to complete.
Showing the cadets the path to success keeps the students who volunteer for the SYA on the right path, according to Armstrong. The academy is one of several National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Programs across the U.S. which addresses the growing dropout crisis and its impact on our nation’s youth, economy and national security. They assist adolescents who drop out of school with the opportunity to improve their life skills, education and employability, creating the next generation skilled workforce in America. The programs help the youth earn high school diplomas and GEDs.
Napolitano and the group gathered for a presentation by four cadets, Dantayan Mitchell, Reise Rodriguez, Stephanie Molina and Aylin Camacho. These cadets shared their hardships and their individual decisions to volunteer for the Sunburst Youth Academy. The cadets shared their aspirations and received advice from the generals, colonels and congresswoman on how to succeed in pursuing their career dreams, whether it was applying to military academies, colleges or going straight to work from high school.
The briefing on SYA included statistics which showed the California National Guard program has surpassed the number of graduates it is funded for, meaning the taxpayer is getting more graduates than it pays for, according to Armstrong. The briefing explained that the youth are becoming productive citizens and potentially earn more money, which boosts the economy.
The cadets of SYA are 16 to 18 years old, U.S. and California residents who are either at risk of, or have dropped out of high school. The drug free students must not have any felony convictions, be physically and mentally able to complete the program, and also have self volunteered to participate.
The resident portion of the course takes 5 ½ months to complete. Then the student is tracked for 12 months following graduation. The students earn a high school diploma from the high school they return to or SYA. If they are too far behind in their high school credits, they can earn their GED.
In addition to the scholastic achievements, the youth learn leadership and followership, service to the community, job skills, responsible citizenship, life coping skills, health and hygiene, and physical fitness.
“After graduation, the students excel in their lives,” said Gabrielli. “We (California National Guard) are leading the (NG youth) program, pushing these cadets to success.”
The congresswoman and officers began a walking tour of buildings in which the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers managed the renovation of in March 2012. They visited students in the first classroom where they observed the class of young women learning the importance of a resume and other job acquiring skills from their teacher Francis.
Then Francis asked the visitors to share something about their first job.
“I worked for my aunt in a small food store,” said Toy. “I handed out flyers and was paid in candy back then. But every job you have is important and you should do your very best at it.”
Napolitano explained her first job was working for a judge and the pay was $.25 an hour, a fair wage then for someone who was learning office skills. The congresswoman encouraged the students assuring them they can accomplish anything they work for.
The tour then went across the street to the fifth graders’ STARBASE Learning Center, a facility under National Guard management, also built by the Corps in 2012. STARBASE, which stands for Science and Technology Academics Reinforcing Basic Aviation and Space Exploration, is aimed at teaching supplemental and innovative courses in science, technology, engineering and math, commonly known as STEM subjects. This is only the third facility of its kind in California, joining its National Guard predecessor in Sacramento and a Navy counterpart in San Diego.
STARBASE students learn subjects such as Newton’s Laws, including the law of inertia and the law of force. Then they move to the laboratory to test the information they’ve learned.
The STARBASE has a lot of hands-on learning experiences in engineering. This approach shows them science and math can be fun. The trip also was a learning experience for Toy, who shared a thought with the fifth graders.
“In our job (the Corps), we never get to see the children (who) use the facilities we build,” said Toy. “This really warms my heart.”
Napolitano also has warmth for the facilities.
“I have children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, and I want to ensure the educational opportunities are available to you and them,” said Napolitano. “You also need to remember to stay away from drugs and bad influences. Remember to benefit from these learning opportunities.”