The mission of the Mountaineer ChalleNGe Academy is to train and mentor at-risk youth, so they can become contributing members of society. And Friday, some of its graduating cadets made history.
The Mountaineer ChalleNGe Academy graduated 76 cadets from its 40th class. This is the first class where most of the cadets earned a high school diploma.
"I feel awesome. I think it's great. I came here thinking I was going to get a GED and they sprung a high school diploma on us," said Nathaniel Faulton, a graduating cadet. "I was all smiles when I saw that, when I saw that banner."
The Mountaineer ChalleNGe Academy partnered with the West Virginia Department of Education to give the deserving cadets a diploma from their home high school.
Pamela Kelly is the Cadet Services Coordinator, which is the equivalent of a school principal. She said it's something they've been trying to achieve for some time.
"Many families see the high school diploma as the traditional piece of paper that they want. It's very important to families, it's very important to children," Kelly said. "What this does is it helps West Virginia as a whole."
Nathaniel Faulton was one of the cadets to earn his high school diploma. He said his time at the ChalleNGe Academy was difficult, but it helped him grow up.
"It was a hard experience," Faulton said. "You have to learn how to not have your family with you all the time and be independent. work as a team with people you've never even met before at doing tasks, like getting the barracks clean every morning."
The cadets will now go their separate ways by heading into the work force, going to college, or joining the military.
Fifty three cadets graduated with a high school diploma and 35 cadets who earned GED's scored high enough to qualify for the Promise Scholarship.