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Hines turned his life around, thanks to Challenge Academy

Robert Hines. Submitted photo

Robert Hines initially started his high school career by attending Spring Valley High School.

"I was mostly lazy, sleeping through school, talking through study hall," he said.

Even the news that he was credit deficient didn't snap him out of it.

"I still didn't care," he said.

The proverbial light bulb went off when Hines, who turned 18 last month, was told he would be lucky to even graduate with the Class of 2011.

"I needed to change something," Hines, the son of Todd Hines and Wendy Wegerer, said.

His change came when he dropped out of Spring Valley and enrolled in the Wisconsin National Guard Challenge Academy, located at Fort McCoy, earlier this year. The Academy is a 17-month program for at-risk youth ages 16 years, nine months through 18. Traditionally, cadets are high school drop-outs, habitual truants, expelled students or students critically deficient in credits.

The first goal for those accepted is completing a 22-week residential phase, during which the cadets earn their High School Equivalency Diploma. Hines recently finished that step and earned his diploma Saturday.

He detailed what life was like.

"For the first two weeks you're there, you couldn't talk," he said. "Once you're allowed to talk, you couldn't talk out of your turn. If you did, you would be doing push-ups.

"Basically, you kept your mouth shut and did what you were told."

To graduate, all cadets had to achieve 80 percent on each of the following components' criteria: academic excellence, physical fitness, job skills training, community service, health and hygiene, responsible citizenship, leadership/followership and life-coping skills.

The physical fitness was one of the things that stood out the most for Hines.

"We did a lot of physical training," he said. "We did it 5:30 a.m. every day, which is something I thought I would never do at home, ever."

Included in that training was running, in which cadets built up their endurance to the point in which they're supposed to run five miles within about a 50-minute span.

He added he enjoyed land navigations, rock climbing, working with GPS and repelling from a 55-foot tower.

With the first step complete, the second step for Hines is now a 12-month post-residential phase, when cadets are given the options of going into jobs, post-secondary education or the military.

Hines chose the Army, where he'll be on active duty, and then the National Guard. During those times, he plans on going to technical school, getting his degree in automobile mechanics.

"It is something I never would have done if it wasn't for getting into the Challenge Academy," he said.

The Wisconsin Challenge Academy celebrated 10 years of service in 2008. Since 1998, 87 percent of those have earned their high school equivalency diplomas.

Jason Schulte

Jason Schulte is a reporter for the New Richmond News since February 2015. Prior to that he spent eight years at the Pierce County Herald in Ellsworth. His duties with the News will include covering news out of Hammond and Roberts along with action from St. Croix County court system. He lives in Roberts. 

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