MONTGOMERY, W.Va. — The first class of Mountaineer Challenge Academy cadets have begun their training at the new Montgomery location. The academy, MCA-South, was formed earlier this year and is operated on the former campus of West Virginia University Tech.
“It’s a program that has been needed. Historically we have underserved south of Route 60,” said Bob Morris, Director of the Mountaineer Challenge Academy.
Cadets can come to the academy from all over the state, but having the facility in the southern part of West Virginia offered a boost to teens in the coalfield counties who were at risk. The most recent class arrived on campus over the weekend. The members come from 30 of the state’s 55 counites.
Under normal circumstances, the southern academy could accommodate 144 cadets, but due to Covid 19 restrictions, they’re operating at half-capacity. According to Morris with the class capped at 72, they already have 70 students. The 22 week program will offer a whole life plan to each student in areas of academics, physical fitness, self discipline, and in general life skills. The group will be graduated in March. There is a four week period in between classes to allow for staff development, training, and leave time.
“Mountaineer Challenge Academy North at Camp Dawson will start their classes in January and July. Montgomery, MCA-South, will start in April and October,” said Morris.
The staggering of classes means no potential cadet will have more than a three month wait to get into the program. According to Morris when a teen has made the decision to commit to the program, forcing them to wait longer than three months to begin often creates diminished returns and will many times cause a student to lose interest in the program even before they arrive.
Covid 19 restrictions have changed much of the operation. All students who arrived on campus were tested at an off campus site before being transported as small group to the campus. Those groups with whom cadets arrived will become their platoon for the duration of the stay. Due to the pandemic guidelines, the platoons, which have about a dozen cadets, are the largest grouping of students who are living in dormitory arrangements.
“Prior to Covid, we would break them into educational groups and you’d have a blend of students, but during Covid we keep them true to their own platoon,” he said.
All instructors in the quasi-military program are routinely tested and any visitors on campus for vending or contract work must also have a recent negative Covid 19 test to be on the property.