126 SW 148th St

Ste C100-422

Seattle, WA





E-mail Us!



HEAL is an egalitarian network of activists self-empowered to plan events, create change, and make the world a better place for all life.  Our goals include the liberation of humans, nonhuman animals, and the earth!  We work in cooperation with like-minded organizations that put compassion in action!

Teen Liberty


Human Rights

Animal Welfare



Prison Reform Human Liberation Earth Liberation Animal Liberation

  Teen Liberty Menu:


challenge academy

ft. mccoy, wi

  Also see: Staff and Background Information



challenge academy

 application REVIEW

HEAL has found some reason for concern with ChalleNGe Academy's (Challenge/Challenge's) application including apparent contradictory terms.  We will be alternating between purple background and/or words for HEAL critiques and questions and a light pink with red words for the words of Challenge in their application (as was downloaded from on September 29th, 2010).  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
Application (Pages 1-4)

"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 staff."

"All applicants 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)



"Disclosure of 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. 

Are fax-machines 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.

It appears 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.

Overall, HEAL's 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.

Application (Pages 5-6)

"The Parent(s), or Legal Guardian(s), or Applicant should sign all documents needing signatures." (p. 5)

"I/We, the 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."

"I/We understand 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."

"I/We authorize 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 "voluntary"?

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 5-phase 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 program.

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 concern. 

Application (Page 7)

"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."

"I acknowledge that I may be contacted by an Army recruiter at a later date and time."

"If participant 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 indicated below."

HEAL's primary 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.

HEAL's secondary 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. 

If parental 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 program.

Application (Page 8)

"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."

"This agreement 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."

"Furthermore, I 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."


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. 

Application (Page 10)

"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 the Academy."

"I/We further authorize the Academy to release information as deemed necessary for the purpose of developing longitudinal and statistical studies and reports."

"This release shall remain in effect until revoked in writing by the undersigned individuals."

"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."

"I/We further 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 me/us."

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.

Application (Page 11)

"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."

"The Challenge 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."

"I/We hereby acknowledge and accept the academic services as provided within the scope of the Challenge Academy program."

Challenge Academy 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 graduating. 

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? 

Application (Page 13)

"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 Academy."

HEAL finds 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.

Application (Page 17)


"Name three 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 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 concern.

Application (Page 18)

"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 Academy costs."

Challenge Academy 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.
Application (Page 23)

"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 leadership experiences."

HEAL supports 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 program 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.

Application (Pages 25 & 27)

"The Challenge 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 School."

"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)

"I hereby 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 Challenge Academy."

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 education.

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 minors)? 

Application (Pages 28-29)


"Duties and Responsibilities"

"Discusses violations of policies by the cadet with the Counselor and Mentor Coordinator."

"Communicates 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 relationship."

"At least two contacts per month will be face-to-face during the Post-residential Phase."

"Report any changes of the plan to the Cadet's Assigned Counselor." (p. 28)

"I further 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 employees."

"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 ethical concerns. 

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 additional information before considering removal of Challenge Academy from our watch-list.


Also see: Staff and Background Information