Sunburst Youth Challenge Academy offers structure, routine for students looking for positive focus

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Saturday, November 5, 2022
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Self-respect, accountability and focus: a life-changing local academy run by the National Guard has positive impact on students working towards a brighter future

LOS ALAMITOS (KABC) -- At the Sunburst Youth Challenge Academy in Los Alamitos structure, routine, and discipline are at its core. Students or "cadets" enrolled here are given a chance to turn their lives around through the program run by the California National Guard.

"I was feeling lost in the outside world like too many distractions I was like I want something better for my life without doing the same thing over and over again," said 11th grader Eliah Green.

Green, like her fellow cadets, had fallen behind in school and was at risk of dropping out when she came to the academy.

"They as an individual have to make that choice to come to this school and apply," said Master Sgt. Neil Ballecer, Sunburst Youth Academy.

During the five-and-a-half-month residency program, cadets are led by the men and women of the California National Guard. Some are active duty and others retired veterans who lead the daily drills.

However, academics are just as important. Sunburst is a fully accredited high school through the Orange County Department of Education.

"After they graduate with us, our goal is to return them to their district of residence where they can graduate high school on time," said Dinah Ismail, Sunburst Youth Academy.

The boot camp setting providing skills many of these troubled teens are learning for the first time.

"Much more self-respect for myself and I have a lot of integrity," said 12th grader Hazel Acosta.

"Coming here to Sunburst changed everything about me. It changed the way I think, the way I see things, the way I react to certain situations," said 12th grader Daniel Monroy.

They'll leave here with values, life skills, and self-discipline on top of their education; some earning enough credit to graduate high school or be on track to graduate back home.