A photographer documents a cohort at the military-style Washington Youth Academy after watching her brother transform in a strict environment.
I BECAME INTERESTED in military-type academies after watching my younger brother slowly change when he joined the Army at a young age. He struggled at school and at finding a community, but since joining the Army, his ideals and demeanor have evolved as he found a sense of purpose in his life.
His experience with a strict environment — and those radical transformations — led me online to seek out the Washington Youth Academy, a division of the National Guard Youth Challenge program for teenagers from across the state who have dropped out of high school or are close to dropping out.
I visited the residential program several times over six months to photographically document one cohort of students from beginning to end. My impression was that it was a lot more than a “boot camp” (a phrase — and a stigma — they said they try to avoid).
After speaking with a couple students, I believe they had found a sense of self and responsibility because of the program. I could see many of them probably struggled with home and school life, but when they went through the academy, they struggled in a way that left them with a lot of rewards and accomplishments.
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The cadets were doing something in their life they could really be proud of, and the staff showed genuine care for them, although it was a bit of tough love.