"We can get them to say 'yes sir' or 'no sir' at orientation," said Robert Morris, deputy director of the Challenge Academy. "But if we don't have them ready for college or a career, then we're missing a tremendous opportunity."
Making a high school diploma possible meant tweaking some education policies, but state superintendent of schools Jim Phares said the minor changes were well worth the major impact a high school diploma could have on the lives of these students.
There's payoff for local systems too - students who qualify for graduation at Camp Dawson are issued diplomas by their local school systems, helping boost that county's graduation rate.
"It's become a win/win situation," Phares said. "And they're given a second chance, which is what we're supposed to be about in education."
Kyle Nickolas, who was chosen by his class to speak at graduation, might have summed it up best when he spoke to his peers and their families at the commencement ceremony.
"To say our time here was interesting would be an understatement," he said of the cold showers, the pushups and the grueling schedule.
"But something that originally seemed so terrible to all of us evolved into amazing opportunities."
Maranda Hanlin of Monongalia County graduated Friday with a high school diploma. She said her 22 weeks at the Challenge Academy changed her life - as did the diploma in her hand.
"I'm just so thankful to everyone who put the time and money into this and me," she said after graduation, tears in her eyes. "I couldn't graduate before, but this let me do it."
Hanlin plans to attend nursing school in the fall.
Contact writer Shay Maunz at shay.ma...@dailymail.com or 304-348-4886.
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