Finding Academic and Personal Success through Alternative Schooling

Devlin Fortin represents Forks at the Washington Youth Academy

After the turmoil of COVID and its impacted learning options, 17-year-old Devlin Fortin was having a difficult time fitting back into the routine at Forks High School. His dad Ray shared, “We were getting calls from the school, things were just not going good for him, even online options were not working,” But the worst thing according to Devlin’s Dad was that Devlin was calling himself stupid and wanting to quit.

A chance conversation with the FHS counselor and Devlin was sent home with some literature about the Washington Youth Challenge Academy and a spark was set off in Devlin. Ray said, “He was instantly interested, he couldn’t stop talking about it, so we started the process to see if we could get him enrolled.”

The Washington Youth Challenge Academy (WYCA) is a division of the National Guard Youth Challenge program. It enrolls 16 to 18-year-olds from across the state who have dropped out of high school or are close to dropping out. The residential program uses military-style training, rigorous schooling, and mentor relationships to help students earn credits and prepare for future employment or high school graduation.

Enrollment in the academy is limited so the Fortins did the application and waited. Ray said, “There are way more applications than spots available …but we got called for an onsite assessment.” If an application is accepted by the WYCA Application Panel, the family is invited to an Onsite Assessment Day on campus, about two weeks before the next class begins.

The Fortins traveled to WYCA in Bremerton. At the assessment, both parents and the youth applicant get interviewed.

“They are looking for the kids who need the most help, maybe their grades are not so good,” Ray said.

At the assessment, parents get filled in on the process and the students get familiar with the campus and activities.

Much to the relief of the Fortins, Devlin was selected to start the next class.

The learning environment is strict and demanding. Students, dubbed “cadets” and divided into platoons, start their days at 4:45 a.m. with a wake-up call and an hourlong, strenuous exercise routine, followed by school classes. But they are also offered fun activities such as camping, archery, music, and even an outing to a Mariners game. These special activities are earned with good performance.

Coincidently Devlin’s platoon is called the Spartans. In addition to the platoon that Devlin is in, there is another one with younger boys and one consisting of girls. About 180 students are in the current class.

The first few weeks there is no contact with the students, “Then the contact with the cadets is at a minimum they only get phone calls to home if they earn it,” Ray said, and then the calls are limited to ten minutes.

The family recently traveled to visit Devlin in person. It was a tearful but rewarding visit as Devlin has excelled in this environment and had earned the honor of carrying the flag for his platoon and more recently his platoon was awarded ‘The Streamer” for academic excellence.

In addition to the academic aspect of the program students also take part in “life-school.” Learning financial training, and also things like how to do a job interview.

Mentors play a key role in helping students stay on track throughout the program, and after, in a 12-month program. Mentors are adult figures outside the students’ families. Such as teachers, counselors, or community members, who give guidance to students adjusting to home life after finishing the program.

Cadets can earn eight high school credits, but it takes tremendous effort to do so. Devlin will return home after the program to finish out and graduate from traditional school. He will graduate from the WYCA program in December. The goal of the Academy is to return graduates to their home high school to graduate on time with their peers and pursue post-secondary educational or vocational goals.

Each student attends the academy for free. The cost is estimated at $30,000 per graduate. Three-quarters of the academy’s budget comes from the U.S. Department of Defense, with the other fourth from the state in the form of funding from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The academy, which opened in 2009, employs trained staff members, including counselors, experienced military personnel, administrators, cooks, and teachers, who are contracted through the Bremerton School District.

Ray Fortin is a veteran and said, “Devlin knows how I feel about the military, he is even talking about submarines and flying jets.”

Ray said Devlin is not just dreaming about doing big things he is setting goals and his self-confidence continues to grow as well.

“For anyone having an issue with their child I can’t say enough about how this has changed Devlin,” Ray said, adding “He is no longer saying he is stupid, he is going up the ladder and the sky is the limit.”

If anyone is interested in this program for their child, Ray would love to answer questions. He would also like to hear from others who have had this experience with WYCA. He can be reached at 518-536-1796.

Update: On Monday as this story went to print Ray Fortin contacted the Forks Forum and shared, “We talked to Devlin yesterday and he told us he was promoted to Master Sargent, that is the second-in-command for his platoon! Now he has his sights on the top position! That kid is killing it!”

Devlin’s platoon recently received the streamer for academic excellence and is accepting it here.

Devlin’s platoon recently received the streamer for academic excellence and is accepting it here.