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January 10, 2014

Sunburst Youth ChalleNGe Academy graduates its twelfth class

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Members of Class 12 enter the auditorium at Cottonwood Church for their commencement, a ceremony that some students never expected to participate in. Cadets wearing caps and gowns earned enough credits to receive their high school diploma. Some were returning from earlier classes to participate in the Sunburst ceremony. Photo by C.E.H. Wiedel.

Recently promoted to lieutenant colonel, Sunburst Youth Academy Director Joel Armstrong welcomed the biggest class yet to commencement at Cottonwood Church on Friday, Dec. 13.

The best Friday the Thirteenth in their lives.

Lt. Col. Armstrong thanked Academy staff, both military and civilian, for their dedication. Members stood and accepted thunderous applause from students and families.

Academics is one of the core values taught at Sunburst (see facing article). Class 12 excelled at academics, with 60% achieving honor roll status by earning a 3.5 GPA or higher with no “easy A” classes.

Each cadet has committed to changing his or her life using the tools learned at Sunburst. Lt. Col Armstrong urged them to maintain their self-discipline, their integrity, and not to place a limit on themselves.

With a big grin, he admited to being “extremely proud” of the class — and was answered with a roar of approval from the cadets and their families.

United States Congresswoman Grace Napolitano, a long-standing supporter of Sunburst and instrumental in its gaining initial and ongoing funding, flew overnight from Washington, D.C., to attend the ceremony.

“I’m here for you,” she told the cadets. “You have been given the tools, Use them. Families! Support the cadets!”

In relating his own story, California Assemblyman Alan Mansoor spurred the cadets to continue on the path worked out at Sunburst. After growing up in California, he told the cadets, he moved to Virginia and worked as a plumber for $5 an hour. He returned seven years later still unsure of his future, but went back to school, became an Orange County deputy sheriff, and eventually entered local politics. (He’s currently running to replace a termed-out John Moorlach as supervisor for Orange County District Two.

Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia told the cadets, “Don’t be afraid to ask for help! And return the favor for all those who invested in you!”

New year, new class of candidates

Class Thirteen is full. Residency begins Jan. 13. Sunburst students start as candidates who must earn the right to put aside gray sweats and wear gray cadet uniforms. If you would like to support Sunburst’s mission, visit online.

Core values with academics help SYA cadets find balance

One hundred and fifty seven days that reformed drop-outs and smart-alecks into four platoons of smart-stepping academically achieving young adults with a new grip on the direction they want to take in life.

That’s no accident. Sunburst training is based on eight core components: academic excellence, life-coping skills, job skills, health and hygiene, responsible citizenship, service to community, leadership and follwership, and physical fitness.
The Academy is a charter school accredited by the Orange County Department of Education. Cadets quickly learn a first lesson: when in class, pay attention and participate. No exceptions. No disruptions.

None of the cadets entered the Academy as angels. To reach graduation, each cadet must have confronted his own place in life and chosen to grow as an individual, as a member of the cadet corps, and as a citizen. In support of that growth, they learn to fight substance abuse, manage anger and stress, work in and build teams, and budget.

As cadets recognize their changed position, they are introduced to job skills such as resumé writing, filling out job applications, and making a good impression during a job interview.

Cadets learn that physical fitness, health and hygiene all underpin their ability to reach life goals. The residential nature of the Academy enforces a healthy fit lifestyle that cadets can take home with them.

Finally, cadets learn to contribute to the strength of their communities through civic participation in local government and community service through volunteering at the American Cancer Society, Special Olympics and others. They learn skills needed to lead — and to follow — so they will be ready to step up if needed, and to recognize and support good leadership.

On fire

At Class 12’s commencement ceremony, Jeff Hittenberger, Chief Academic Officer of the Orange County Department of Education, congratulated the cadets for their resilience, grit and determination. From his own experience, he told them that citizens of Haiti showed those same three traits right down to the way they daily greet each other:

Sak pase?
(pronounced sahk pah-say,
meaning “How are you doing?”)

M ap boule!
(pronounced mahp boo-lay,
meaning “I’m fine,” literally “I’m on fire”)

In an affirmational call-and-response with Dr. Hittenberger, the cadet corps grew louder and more certain with each repetition.

Members of the official party stand during the posting of the colors by the Sunburst color guard. The official party included 1SG Michael Scott, Program Administrator Mary Lou Vachet, Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, Assemblyman Allan Mansoor, Dr. Jeff Hittenberger, MGen Keith Jones, BGEN James Gabrielli, BGEN Sylvia Crockett,  LtCol Joel Armstrong, and Congresswoman Grace Napolitano. Photo by C.E.H. Wiedel.

Members of the official party stand during the posting of the colors by the Sunburst color guard.
The official party included 1SG Michael Scott, Program Administrator Mary Lou Vachet, Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, Assemblyman Allan Mansoor, Dr. Jeff Hittenberger, MGen Keith Jones, BGEN James Gabrielli, BGEN Sylvia Crockett, LtCol Joel Armstrong, and Congresswoman Grace Napolitano.
Photo by C.E.H. Wiedel.

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About the Author

Shelley Henderson is a reformed computer and networking geek turned freelance writer. Now she only fixes her own networks and computers. That leaves time for writing, and writing and more writing. And editing the Orange County Breeze. Shelley most enjoys visiting and finding out about local businesses to write business profiles that allow our communities to learn more about their local businesses and the people who own and run them. If you own or manage a business in our coverage area and would like to invite Shelley to write a business profile, let us know.


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