HEAL SPECIAL REPORT:
HEAL has found
some reason for concern with ChalleNGe Academy's (Challenge/Challenge's)
application including apparent contradictory terms. We
will be alternating between "quoted text" from pages of Challenge's
application (as was
downloaded from challengeacademy.org on September 29th, 2010)
and HEAL's questions/concerns. HEAL will not repeatedly
link to the admissions packet in full throughout this review,
and, we advise readers to scroll back and/or open the admissions
agreement in a new window while reviewing our work for accuracy
or if additional contextualization is preferred. This is
an independent review and if you are in need of legal assistance
or advice, please
consult with an attorney.
"Our program, while
completely voluntary, is demanding and will require your full
support." (p. 1)
"Do not fax any
materials unless instructed to do so by the Challenge Academy
are required to find and nominate an individual from their
community willing to be their mentor...The Mentor application
can be mailed in separately at a later date, but will be
required to be considered for acceptance." (p. 2)
"SOCIAL WORKER OR
PROBATION OFFICER INFORMATION:" (p. 3)
"WHO REFERRED YOU
TO CHALLENGE ACADEMY?...Legal System..."
information is voluntary; however, failure to provide any
information may result in your application being denied." (p. 4)
HEAL has received
reports that during certain early phases of the program, contact
with the outside world is limited or denied. This raises
concerns regarding the "voluntary" nature of the program.
If an enrollee wishes to leave the program, how are they to
insure the request reaches those who may be in the position to
remove them from the program? This is a concern.
left unsupervised and/or in the care of those not charged with
respecting confidentiality? If so, why? If not, why
is there a rule stating that no one should send faxes to the
program unless instructed to do so?
It is refreshing
to see that the Challenge Academy appears to permit enrollees to
choose and/or participate in the process of choosing their
mentors when returning to their home communities. It is
especially impressive that the Challenge Academy requires this
be done prior to enrollment. It shows an environment that
may be free of destructive/coercive thought reform practices.
Challenge Academy may take adjudicated and/or children currently
in the foster care system. It is HEAL's concern that such
children may not feel they have an option other than Challenge
and this could impose an involuntary enrollment. Given the
risks to life and limb due to the quasi-military nature of the
program, this is a concern.
concern with Challenge Academy is based on reports of abuse we
have received regarding Challenge Academy's in other states (New
Mexico, Louisiana, and Illinois). HEAL has not received
any reports of abuse or violations occurring at Challenge
Academy in Wisconsin (as of September 29th, 2010).
However, the application has raised some concerns and we will
discuss these throughout this review.
"The Parent(s), or
Legal Guardian(s), or Applicant should sign all documents
needing signatures." (p. 5)
Parent(s)/Guardian(s) of Applicant_____who is applying to attend
the Wisconsin National Guard Challenge Academy at Fort McCoy,
Wisconsin, agree to permit my child/ward to be allowed to fully
participate in all aspects of the Academy."
and agree that if my child/ward is dis-enrolled from the Academy
for any reason, I will pick up my child/ward at Fort McCoy, WI."
the Academy to transport my child/ward as a passenger in
designated National Guard ground and/or air vehicles during
his/her participation in the Challenge Academy. a. My child/ward
will accept such transportation entirely at his her own
initiative, risk, and responsibility...b. If necessary, due to
medical, dental, disciplinary, or other reasons, the Director of
the Challenge Academy may return my child/ward home by
commercial or private carrier, for which I/we will be
responsible for payment." (p. 6)
Is it possible for
parents to enroll their children against the wishes of the
children? Does Challenge Academy ever accept children
placed involuntarily? How does Challenge Academy define
What type of
"character building" or "leadership training" exercises or
experiences are utilized in the Academy program? It
appears a level system is in place. It appears that
Challenge Academy uses a
system. It would be helpful to know what privileges
and/or disciplinary actions are applied on each phase.
This would assist HEAL in further determining the efficacy as
well as benefit/risk analysis encompassed by participation in
The final two
segments listed above appear to contradict each other.
This is possibly not the case as the child may be returned by
private transportation, unsupervised, to his/her home if
dismissed for any reason, solely in the event of the parent not
being willing or able to pick him/her up. However, this
stipulation is not made in the application and such may pose a
"In consideration of being permitted to climb the "Rock-Climbing
Wall" presented by the U.S. Army Recruiting Command, on behalf
of myself, my personal representatives, heirs, and assigns, I
hereby release and discharge the United States, its agents,
servants, or employees from any and all claims for property
damage and/or personal injury or death resulting from my attempt
to climb or descent the Rock-Climbing Wall. This release
covers the negligent use, maintenance, construction, or design
of the Rock-Climbing Wall, and the negligent supervision of my
use of the Rock-Climbing Wall."
that I may be contacted by an Army recruiter at a later date and
is under 18 years of age, this form must be signed by one of the
parents or legal guardians before participation will be
allowed... I hereby give, as parent or legal guardian of the
above participant, my permission for him or her to participate
in this event by affixing my signature on the appropriate space
concern with the above is that it seeks to absolve Challenge
Academy from any harm, up to and including death, that results
from the negligent maintenance or construction of the equipment
supplied by the program and/or the negligent supervision of the
participant that may result in serious harm. Are children
required to participate in the Rock-Climbing in order to advance
through the program? If so, does failure to participate
result in any disciplinary action or adverse social consequence
(peer or staff-influenced) for the cadet? In the event
that failure to participate in the rock-climbing results in
disciplinary action, social ostracizing experienced by
non-participating cadets, or dismissal from the program, this
clause would seem to be exceedingly oppressive and/or
unconscionable. This is a concern.
concern is that Challenge Academy and/or the U.S. Army uses this
educational assistance program as a tool for recruitment.
However, since this is disclosed in the enrollment materials and
the program is affiliated with the military (National Guard), it
does not appear to be unconscionable or over-reaching.
consent is given, but, the cadet does not wish to participate,
are they pressured to participate? If so, this would raise
additional concerns regarding the "voluntary" nature of the
"I, the parent/legal guardian of____, do hereby release, acquit,
discharge, indemnify, and hold harmless the Wisconsin Department
of Military Affairs, the State of Wisconsin, the Department of
Defense, the United States of America, their officers,
personnel, employees and agents from any and all cause or causes
of action, including personal injury, illness, death, property
damage, cost, charges, claims, demands, and liabilities of
whatever kind, name, or nature in any manner arising from the
use of such facilities by the child."
"Moreover, I the
parent/legal guardian of said child, agree not to initiate suit
or any form of litigation or judicial proceeding or to make any
claim or claims of any type against the Wisconsin Department of
Military Affairs, the State of Wisconsin, the Department of
Defense, the United States of America, their officers,
personnel, employees, or agents, to include, but not limited to
death, personal injury, medical claims or property damage,
directly or indirectly relating to or arising from or arising
out of or by reason of the use of the facilities by the child."
is intended to cover all claims for all injuries, fatal or
nonfatal, and illnesses of every name, type, kind or nature and
property damage, if any, which are or may be sustained or
suffered from any cause whatsoever directly or indirectly
connected with or arising out of or by reason of the use of the
facilities by the child."
agree to reimburse the State of Wisconsin and/or the United
States of America, as required by applicable regulations and the
laws of the United States of America for any costs, debts, or
liabilities predicted upon the loss of, damage to, or
destruction of any property owned, leased or controlled by the
United States which occurs as a result of the intentional or
negligent acts or omissions by me. I, the undersigned,
hereby agree to indemnify and hold harmless the Wisconsin
Department of Military Affairs, the State of Wisconsin and the
United States of America, their officers, personnel, employees
or agents against judgments obtained by my ward or child."
MANDATORY DISCLOSURE UNDER THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT (FOIA)"
It is a serious
concern and seemingly unconscionable that Challenge Academy
refuses to accept liability for any harm that may come to the
child while in the program, even in the event of Challenge
Academy's negligent acts or failures to act (stated above on
page 7 and below in discussion of page 29). This seems
unconscionable in light of the fact that not only are
participants and/or their families to indemnify and hold
harmless Challenge Academy, but, that Challenge Academy will
hold participants responsible for damage to facilities or
equipment that by their own admission may be inadequately
constructed or designed. This seems to be an unfair clause
in the contract.
It is unclear
what is meant by "exempt from mandatory disclosure under...FOIA".
This segment suggests that Challenge Academy is not under a duty
to report or convey any known risks involved with the use of
their equipment or facilities. This would seem to protect
the interests of the Academy over the interests of participants
and their families and it raises a concern.
"I/We authorize the Wisconsin National Guard Challenge Academy
to release my/our names, addresses and telephone numbers to an
institution or individual, whether public or private, for the
purpose of advocating, supporting, and furthering the mission of
authorize the Academy to release information as deemed necessary
for the purpose of developing longitudinal and statistical
studies and reports."
shall remain in effect until revoked in writing by the
"I/We grant to
the Challenge Academy and/or Wisconsin Department of Military
Affairs the right to take, use, reproduce, assign, and/or
distribute photographs, films, videotapes and sound recordings
of the Applicant, for use in any such materials the Academy or
the Wisconsin Department of Military Affairs may create, without
any payment to or future approval by me/us."
agree and consent that I/We or my child/ward may be photographed
by news media in efforts to promote and enhance the activities
of the Academy, without any payment to or future approval by
It is a concern that
the Academy requests the above releases on the same form as the
release for educational, medical, and/or mental health records.
The above requests seem to be made with the sole beneficiary of
these portions of the agreement being Challenge Academy and may
include a violation of privacy that the cadet may not have fully
considered prior to enrollment or publication of any
media/promotional materials. This is a minor concern.
"The Challenge Academy provides every candidate/cadet with
intensive support to achieve the performance goals for each of
the program's eight core components. You are hereby
informed that Candidates/Cadets are not provided with individual
testing accommodations or special instruction that may have been
available in their previous educational settings."
Academy reviews the performance of each Candidate/Cadet in all
aspects of the program, normally on a bi-weekly basis.
This review includes an assessment of academic performance."
acknowledge and accept the academic services as provided within
the scope of the Challenge Academy program."
makes it clear that they offer preparation for and application
of a high school equivalency diploma or GED. This is not
an issue and is understandable given that cadets are youth who
have not been successful in school and are in danger of not
What does the
Academy mean by "intensive support"? What are the "eight
core components" and how are these "core components" imparted to
the cadets? Definitive answers to these questions will
assist HEAL in our analysis of the program.
Is the curriculum
primarily of tutoring and self-study? Is the cadet's
academic work only reviewed bi-weekly?
"I/we, the Parent(s)/Legal Guardian of Applicant____, who is
enrolled in the Wisconsin National Guard Challenge Academy at
Fort McCoy, Wisconsin being responsible for the above named
Candidate's medical and dental care and any incurred medical
costs, do hereby consent in advance to what ever emergency,
x-ray, examination, anesthesia, diagnostic procedure,
medical/dental and/or surgical treatment is considered necessary
in the best judgment of the attending physician in the event of
illness or injury occurring to the above named Candidate during
his/her attendance at the Wisconsin National Guard Challenge
nothing wrong with the above clause, except, that injuries
caused by negligence or intentional acts (assault/battery) by
staff against the Cadet should be covered by the program.
It is a concern that the program refuses to take responsibility
for its own failures, whether through negligent or intentional
acts resulting in harm.
"CANDIDATE GOAL SHEET"
realistic careers that may interest you."
"How much money do
you believe you will make with your career?"
HEAL has found
the majority of the screening and goal-related questions to be
answered by the Candidate/Cadet to be encouraging in tone and
apparently supportive and showing legitimate concern for the
Candidate/Cadet as an individual. This again suggests that
Challenge Academy is not a coercive thought reform program.
However, HEAL will need additional information and a sustained
record free from abuse throughout the Challenge Academy network
of programs before we will consider removing any Challenge
Academy from our watch-list. Should Challenge Academy wish
to provide detailed information regarding the 5-phase system,
privileges, disciplinary policies and/or actions, and/or any
data on injuries or abuses reported in regards to the facility,
it's staff, or peer-on-peer confrontations, then Challenge
Academy should visit
www.heal-online.org/helpteen.htm for details on how and what
to submit for further review and removal consideration.
What does Challenge
Academy mean by "realistic careers"? Would Challenge
Academy consider a desire to be an artist, thespian, musician,
astronaut, or any other such esteemed and/or difficult career
path as unrealistic? If so, this would be a concern as it
would suggest an unsupportive atmosphere. It may be
unethical to make a young person's priority financial gain as
opposed to a career in which one is happily successful.
The last question above raises this concern, but, it is a minor
"To help defray the increasing cost of feeding our cadets, the
Challenge Academy obtains food subsidies through the USDA
National School Lunch Program. To apply for funding on
behalf of your child, please fill out the attached form to
determine his/her eligibility. All parents must fill out
an application regardless of income...Thank you for your
cooperation. This program greatly reduces Challenge
appears to be a solely government-funded program. HEAL has
seen no evidence that families are charged for any aspect of the
Academy. It seems it would be appropriate for parents to
fund a portion of their child's participation to reduce the
expense to the taxpayer in regards to funding meals and/or
non-academic related expenses. It also seems somewhat
unethical to request families that would otherwise be required
to pay for lunch to submit for government subsidies not needed
by families in a financial position to cover such costs.
In addition, since the U.S. Army may be using the program to
recruit youth into the military, it may be more appropriate for
all aspects of the program to be covered by the National Guard
or Department of Defense, including room and board. HEAL
supports the National School Lunch Program and values this
program as it insures disadvantaged children receive meals they
may otherwise do without.
"The Wisconsin National Guard Challenge Academy is a residential
program committed to improving the quality of life for
Wisconsin's 16 to 18 year old "at-risk" teens."
"Phase I is a
22-week residential stay at Fort McCoy in a quasi-military
environment. Phase II consists of a 12-month
post-residential mentoring period back in the home community.
In the residential portion, much of the Cadets' time is spent in
classrooms with Department of Public Instruction licensed
teachers where enhancing basic academic skills and preparing for
High School Equivalency Diploma testing is a priority.
Other activities include anger management classes, a character
development curriculum...experiential activities...and
efforts to improve the quality of life of all individuals as
long as the individuals' rights are respected and the
individuals are encouraged to exercise their constitutional
rights in their entirety while enrolled in the program.
Who or what is the
source of the model used for anger management and/or character
development curriculum(s)? What does Challenge Academy
mean by "experiential activities" and "leadership experiences"?
For instance, are Cadets ever given authority over other Cadets?
This would raise a serious concern.
In addition, the
program claims the residential stay is 22-weeks, but, this
appears to be subject to change. In the
details, it is stated that the program typically lasts
42-weeks. Since 42-weeks is too short to include the
12-month follow-up, this suggests that the residential portion
may last 42-weeks. This is nearly double the stated
requirement and raises issues regarding the actual length of the
program and/or average length of the program. How
often do children stay in the residential phase(s) of the
program beyond 22-weeks? What is the average length of
stay for children in Phase I? Answering these questions
will assist HEAL in determining the appropriateness of Challenge
Academy's placement on our watch-list. Please see
for information on
submitting materials for removal consideration requests.
(Pages 25 & 27)
Academy is a 17-month program for youth ages 16 years and 9
months through 18 who are at-risk of not graduating from High
"Mentors must be
at least 25 years of age, the same gender as the applicant, and
not living in the same household...A mentor does not have to be
someone the applicant personally knows." (p. 25)
authorize the Challenge Academy, along with law enforcement
departments, to conduct whatever background search that may be
deemed appropriate. I understand that this information is
necessary to assist in determining my qualifications and
suitability for a mentor position that I am seeking with the
It is commendable
that the State of Wisconsin and the National Guard is working to
assist children, who otherwise would not graduate high school,
in earning and obtaining a diploma. HEAL applauds all
efforts to insure children receive a proper and legitimate
HEAL has no problem with the qualifications required of mentors.
What background searches are done on mentor applicants to insure
they have no history of sexual exploitation of others (including
violations of policies by the cadet with the Counselor and
monthly by mail, e-mail, or phone with their Cadet's assigned
Counselor. Promptly informs the Counselor and/or Mentor
Coordinator of problems or needs in the cadet's life or their
"At least two
contacts per month will be face-to-face during the
changes of the plan to the Cadet's Assigned Counselor." (p. 28)
release the Challenge Academy, the National Guard Bureau, the
State of Wisconsin, the Wisconsin National Guard, and their
agents and employees from any and all liability, claims,
demands, or causes of action, whatsoever arising out of any
damage, loss, or injury I might incur while participating in any
activities contemplated by this mentoring agreement, whether
such damage, loss, or injury is caused by the negligence of the
Challenge Academy, the National Guard Bureau, the State of
Wisconsin, the Wisconsin National Guard, and their agents and
"I authorize the
Wisconsin National Guard Challenge Academy (Academy) to release
my name, address, and telephone numbers to an institution or
individual, whether public or private, for the purpose of
advocating, supporting, and furthering the mission of the
Academy...This release shall remain in effect until revoked in
writing by the undersigned individual(s)."
It is a concern, and
suggests an atmosphere in which trust issues may develop, that
mentors are expected to report on the children they are
mentoring in the event the child confides issues or problems
with the practices of Challenge Academy.
It is an
additional concern that the child will be reported on in a
semi-invasive or micro-managing way following the residential
portion of the program. If the child has effectively
earned their diploma, the excessive nosiness of the Academy as
to the child's additional choices is a minor concern. The
military recruitment angle may be an issue.
It is a concern
that volunteers/mentors who are giving back to their community
are expected to indemnify Challenge Academy against its own
negligence. This seems a tad unconscionable given the fact
that the mentor is volunteering his/her time for the betterment
of the community.
It is a minor
issue that the personal information of volunteers may be
released publicly or privately for the benefit of the program.
If this clause was further explained, it would likely pose no
Based on the
preliminary review, we continue to find Challenge Academy
suspect. However, we are uncertain and do not believe
Challenge Academy is using a coercive thought reform model to
change behavior. We are concerned regarding the reports of
abuse at the Challenge Academy programs located in New Mexico,
Louisiana, and Illinois. And, based on the issues
involving other Challenge Academy programs, we will need
information before considering removal of Challenge Academy
from our watch-list.