Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Changing Student Attitudes, Lives; 'Boot Camp'-Style Alternative High School at Camp Blanding Aims to Help At-Risk Teens

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Changing Student Attitudes, Lives; 'Boot Camp'-Style Alternative High School at Camp Blanding Aims to Help At-Risk Teens

Article excerpt

Byline: Teresa Stepzinski

CAMP BLANDING | It wasn't until Kimo Bracht crashed his car while drinking and driving that he realized his life was speeding toward a dead end.

The 18-year-old Jacksonville man came within a foot of smashing into a propane tank in November. The wreckage of the car mirrored the state of his life back then: an empty existence of drugs, drinking and other self-destructive behavior likely to land him in prison like his father, he said last week.

"That was a big scare. And I guess a wake-up, to say that I really needed to straighten myself up," said Bracht, now clean and sober.

"It was the accident, and then knowing that my dad was getting out of prison and I really didn't want to end up like him," said Bracht, adding his father had been in prison for drug possession and threatening a witness.

Bracht and 170 other teens are striving to change their lives by going through the Florida Youth Challenge Academy at Camp Blanding, a voluntary boot camp-style alternative high school for at-risk teenagers from throughout Florida.

Established in 2001, it's a partnership involving the Clay County school district, Florida National Guard and state departments of Juvenile Justice and Children and Families. A voluntary program, the academy involves 5 1/2 months of residential schooling in academics and life and job skills including self-discipline, self-motivation and time management at the camp.

Bracht and many of his fellow students are from Northeast Florida.

Monica Quinones admits she "basically didn't care." School, family and friends. None of it mattered, the 16-year-old Orange Park girl said with disbelief in her voice at the memory of the way she was not long ago.

"I decided to come here because I knew that my life wouldn't be what it could be because I basically didn't care," she said. "Me and my dad had a real serious talk about how my behavior was and my attitude and what I was doing. He just broke down crying and it hit me that he cared about my future and that he really did care about me."


The academy is staffed by Clay County teachers as well as retired military personnel. Students are enrolled in one of three academic tracks: Clay Virtual Academy, the adult General Educational Development program or the performance-based Florida High School Equivalency Diploma program.

Students can't be ordered into the program, they must apply and want to be there.

"It takes courage for them to be out here," said Stefan Brokas, an educator for 39 years who teaches math. "It's hard out here for the kids a I tell them when they get out here that I really honor them because if this was easy, all their buddies would be out here with them."

More than 3,000 students have graduated from the academy since its founding. Its two classes a year have about 200 to 300 students each. The current class includes 66 students from Duval, Clay and Nassau counties, enrollment records show.

The students, known as cadets, then receive a "post-residency" year of mentoring and other follow-up when they graduate from the program, said Danny E. Brabham, academy program director.

"We have about a 90 percent graduation rate from the program," said Michael Wingate, Clay director of secondary education. …

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