GREENFIELD — As Josiah Schaekel made his way across the stage, his family members couldn’t hold back their excitement.
They whooped and hollered for the 18-year-old graduate of the Hoosier Youth ChalleNGe Academy, who not only received his general equivalency diploma Saturday during the ceremony at Greenfield-Central High School but a $500 scholarship for his hard work.
It’s a day his father, Charles Schaekel, had worried would never come. Josiah dropped out of Greenfield-Central High School on his 18th birthday.
“He was never a school type of kid,” his father said. “He just struggled the whole time.”
The academy provided an alternative for Schaekel to get back on the right path.
Sponsored by the Indiana National Guard (hence the capital “NG” in ChalleNGe), the academy is a 17-month, two-phase training program that targets at-risk youths. Based at the former Indiana Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Children’s Home in Knightstown, it is funded by a mix of federal and state dollars and offered at no cost to those who participate.
While the academy is not intended as a military recruiting program, the curriculum focuses on core components of the National Guard, including leadership, community service and physical fitness.
For Schaekel, the structure of the daily routine while living at the facility helped him focus on what is important to him.
“I learned discipline, integrity and not to take things for granted,” said Schaekel, surrounded by friends and family Saturday after turning his tassel along with his 69 fellow graduates.
Now, the young man who once resisted education is poised to go to college.
“I’m excited, very emotional,” said Schaekel, who will attend Ivy Tech Community College. “It means everything.”
Schaekel was one of four Hancock County youths to graduate from the program Saturday in front of an auditorium packed with supporters.
As the graduates filed into the auditorium, their friends and families erupted into cheers and applause.
The cadets received a standing ovation before the ceremony even began.
Desmond McGraw stood off to the side of the auditorium, camera in hand, prepared to capture every moment as his son, Desmond Jones, crossed the stage.
McGraw said his son attended two county high schools before dropping out. The academy was the answer to the family’s prayers.
“His mom just took a leap of faith,” McGraw said.
Today, Jones is a different person.
“He’s really presenting himself like a military man,” McGraw said.
Jones, too, received his GED, which is an option but not a requirement for students who enter the academy. McGraw said he hopes his son will go straight to college.
“Choices are open now,” he said. “Sky’s the limit.”
The graduates, who spend five months living on campus and then spend a year working with mentors, were congratulated by academy officials and special guest Rep. Luke Messer, R-Ind., who gave the graduation address. Messer represents the 6th Congressional District, which includes Hancock County.
“This is an exciting time,” Messer told the grads. “If you work hard and stay focused, anything’s possible.”
The academy’s program is not court-ordered, nor can it be parent-mandated, officials say. Enrolling in the program is voluntary, and those who take advantage of it are ultimately the ones who succeed.
Now that the graduates are home, they will work with mentors who are required to spend at least an hour per week with them, making sure they are still making progress toward meeting their goals.
The mentors and graduates both maintain contact with the academy, said Deana Follick, mentor coordinator.
It’s important that the graduates feel they are not alone after they leave the campus, Follick said.
“They still have those people that care about them,” she said. “Sometimes, they just need that third party.”
The mentors are approved by the school but can be people who are already part of the graduate’s life, such as a family friend or family member.
Having someone at their side helps the graduates through the transition process of returning home while avoiding falling back into old habits.
“A lot of them are ready to embark on the journey of growing up,” Follick said. “The mentors are a guiding light.”
Charles Schaekel is serving as a mentor to his nephew, who also attended the academy along with Schaekel’s son.
Schaekel looks forward to seeing both young men make more positive choices going forward.
He works at a convenience store in Rushville and said he’s been telling everyone who will listen about his son’s success.
He passes out brochures for the academy to customers. He said when his son was considering dropping out of school, he had no idea such a valuable resource was available.
“To find out there’s something 10 miles away – everybody should know about it,” he said.
Four Hancock County students graduated Saturday from the Hoosier Youth ChalleNGe Academy. They are: Karina Bowling of Shirley; James Myrick of Fortville; Desmond Jones of Greenfield; and Josiah Schaekel of Greenfield.