I’ve been a fan of the Grizzly Youth Academy since the program opened its doors here on the Central Coast in the late 1990s.
Actually, the program began in the summer of 1998, whereupon 73 students graduated from the military-style charter school, which, by the way, is housed on a portion of the old army base in San Luis Obispo.
We here in Atascadero have seen these teens on many occasions as they helped set up Tent City, carried tables and chairs for the annual cancer walk in the Sunken Gardens, marched in our parades and more.
I visited the Grizzly Academy a few weeks ago. George Galvan, a member of the school’s board, and I got an up-close tour. We were met by LTC Timothy Vincent, the school’s director, and Warrant Officer Simone Hosey, community outreach coordinator.
One thing that attracted me to the program is the military component. The teens, boys and girls, wear uniforms, practice close-order drills, march from class to class and respond with a brisk “yes, sir” and “no, sir.”
What I didn’t know is that the academy is the product of the National Guard.
According to information provided to me by Hosey, the House Armed Services Committee asked the Guard to come up with a program to help at-risk teens to “add value to America.” The goal was to provide an experience that provides the teens with values, skills education and discipline using the structure and esprit de corps of the military model.
Although the cadets aren’t allowed to talk to each other during lunch, they were given permission to answer questions from me while we ate in the cafeteria.
Every student answered in the affirmative that they actually like the military-style lifestyle. They like being held accountable, they told me.
Combine the military model with all the tasks of a regular high school curriculum, and the program is a success. In fact, since the academy began here on the Central Coast, 2,700 cadets have completed the rigorous program.
I got to listen in on several classrooms, and I can tell you these students are in good hands. Graduation is just around the corner for this class.
The 20-week school provides its young men and women with all those things you expect from a normal public high school and a whole lot more. There is individual and group counseling for those who need it. One young man showed me where he had a tattoo removed through a program available at the academy.
While working on a Kiwanis event months ago, the Grizzly teens were helping us set up things in the Sunken Gardens.
I went up to one of the cadets and thanked him and his fellow classmates for their public service. The teen looked me right in the eye and responded, “I’m so glad I am a help and not a burden for once.”
I’m thankful we have this great school on the Central Coast. I’m sure every city has benefited from its existence.