Program gives teens second chance

Rahkeam Jacobs knows where he wants to go; he now has a way to get there.

The 17-year-old was doing well until his freshman year in high school, when a fire destroyed his family's home, forcing him to live a short time in Atlanta and fall behind in school. As a result, he had to repeat ninth grade, delaying the dreams he and his mother had.

Ever since he was young, Rahkeam wanted to see the world, and his mother wanted to see him walk across the stage at graduation.

A first of its kind partnership between the Richmond County school board and the Youth Challenge Academy at Fort Gordon will enable both to happen.

"Sometimes life brings you obstacles so you can succeed," said Rahkeam, a Josey High School junior.

The Youth Challenge Academy is a quasi-military program of the National Guard that houses teens from across the state at Fort Gordon and helps them obtain their general equivalency diploma.

The new partnership will run parallel to this program, but students involved in it will obtain a high school diploma. Twelve Richmond County students have been selected for the program. They are juniors who fell behind but will be able to graduate on time in August if they complete the 22-week program.

"We were very, very surprised at the number of students who wanted to be in," Executive Director for High Schools Lynn Warr said.

About 40 students attended a meeting hoping to fill the 12 slots, she said.

"We're absolutely looking forward to offering a different path of opportunities for success to our students who in many other cases may possibly be dropouts or students who have given up on their education," Richmond County Superintendent Dana Bedden said.

It says quite a bit that students are volunteering for a program that requires them to wake up at 4:30 a.m. for physical training, Dr. Bedden added.

Youth Challenge Academy provides an opportunity for students to refocus, said retired Army Lt. Col. Janet Zimmerman, the director of the program.

"Oftentimes some of the things that get in the way of young people being successful are the friends they hang around with, the things going on in their neighborhood; sometimes it's the turmoil in the family," Lt. Col. Zimmerman said. "If you can give a young man a room -- 16 to 19 years old -- 22 weeks of protected time where all they have to focus on is getting their act together and there's no distractions ... it gives them an opportunity to focus only on what they need to do, and it works."

Rahkeem said he understands it will be tough, but he knows he will make something of himself.

After earning his diploma, he plans to enlist in the Navy and become a navigator. The teenager has never been out of the state.

"I want to be shipped off overseas and see the world," said Rahkeem, whose friends call him "Rocky" for his tenacious attitude. "I just have a love of life. My eyes are just soaking up the world. I want to take it all in."

Reach Greg Gelpi at (706) 828-3851 or greg.gelpi@augustachronicle.com.