Bremerton’s ChalleNGe

This is pretty much the scene on day one at the Oregon Youth Challenge program. A similar school will begin in Bremerton in January 2009. Kitsap Sun photo by Larry Steagall

You drive about 10 miles out of Bend and you really are out of town. It becomes a landscape of rolling tan and you pass by a property offering “beetle cleaned skulls” before you turn left.

You walk into the school, which is a single building that looks like it could store airplanes, and as soon as you get into the common hallways it becomes a constant refrain of commands and other reasons to yell.

As you can read about in Sunday’s story and slideshow, Oregon Program Gives Window Into Bremerton’s Planned Youth Academy, this is the kind of place coming to Bremerton.

The first surprise was the kids want to be here. I expected to perhaps “hear” that they wanted to be in Bend for this school, but I thought I would get a sense that they were there at the urging of their parents. I came away convinced that the three boys I spoke with knew why they were there, even if they didn’t have a clue what they were in for. My conversations with them occurred while two other platoons were already going through their initial stages. So these guys I was talking to hadn’t yet entered, they were hearing what was happening and they were choosing in anyway.

The second surprise was that nine weeks later all three that I spoke with were still there, albeit with different experiences of their time there. Having made it that far, they’re likely to make it to graduation in December.

The third surprise the second time there was how settled into the program the guys were. They were understandably afraid the first day, so perhaps I shouldn’t have been taken aback by how calm they were weeks later. A person can get used to anything, I suppose. More than getting used to it, though, the guys had pretty much learned how to not get yelled out.

We didn’t talk to the girls the first time, because by the time we arrived they had already started. I’m sure the school would have let us speak to one or two, but I was more focused on people before they began. Once the program started I wanted to stay out of the way, at least on the first day. Nine weeks later there was a better opportunity to chat.

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