MONTGOMERY, WV (WOAY) – The loss of the WVU Tech campus in 2017 was a devastating blow to the Upper Kanawha Valley when it was moved to Beckley. But on Monday, signs of progress as the Mountaineer Challenge Academy South, a program through the National Guard, opened on the old campus and officially welcomed their first class of cadets.
The academy is slated to bring in 72 soon-to-be cadets this week. These are 16 to 18-year-old teenagers, both male and female, from local high schools who are at-risk of not finishing school.
At the academy, Program Director Paul Perdue says the cadets will live on campus and have a regimented schedule every day full of physical activity and class for 22 weeks.
“We keep their schedule full, so there’s not a lot of lag time in there, and they’re not bored, and they stay active, and we try to keep them involved and engaged in the program,” he said.
Each candidate who applies and gets in must pass a drug test, have no felonies and of course under new guidelines, get a COVID test as well.
For now, they are keeping them in small pods and screening students and staff every day.
After 2 weeks, the “candidates” officially become cadets, and after the 22 weeks, cadets are on track to receive their high school diploma.
The Challenge Academy now owns the Tech Center and Maclin Hall on campus, and they are also leasing the library and gymnasium.
However, it is not just about filling the empty buildings. Perdue says they are big on supporting local businesses, so their laundry will be done in town, their medical services will come from Montgomery General and they expect the restaurants and convenience stores to see more traffic as well.
Mayor Greg Ingram called Monday a “wonderful day to live in Montgomery” and believes the partnership between the community and the academy will only get stronger.
“They have used the local tailor to put patches on the uniforms and help do those types of things,” Ingram said. “And I think it’s going to be a big help and a big push for the local businesses and in turn, that will be good for the residents of the City of Montgomery.”
The academy has hired 58 people so far with plans to hire more.
Perdue says they are excited to change the lives of local youth while also helping the community make a comeback as well.
“There’s a lot of history in this Valley and there are a lot of good people in this Valley and bringing jobs here and creating opportunity, and for them to be able to see these kids day in and day out, I think it’s going to mean a lot to the community in general and it means a lot to us to be here,” he said.
If you would like a job with the Challenge Academy or if you or your child qualifies to become a cadet, you can head over to their website to apply or for more information: https://wvchallenge.org/