- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 7, 2006

Blake Kane, a 17-year-old high school dropout, was grateful for the opportunity to answer questions yesterday at the Rayburn House Office Building, and to rewrite his past in the process.

He is one of about 7,000 cadets in the National Guard Youth Challenge Program, which aims to help dropouts complete their education, learn job skills and possibly join the service.

“It turned our life around,” said Mr. Kane, a Houston native.

Officials of the 13-year-old program yesterday held the Congressional Quiz Bowl at the Rayburn building, where dozens of select cadets competed with one another among elected officials by answering questions on a variety of academic topics.

Most of the Quiz Bowl participants are close to graduating from the 17-month-long program, which operates in 25 states. About 20 percent of the program’s graduates join the military, officials said.

The National Guard Youth Foundation plans to start a program in the District as early as this fall.

“D.C., like the rest of the country, has a tremendous high school dropout problem,” said Joe E. Padilla, program manager for the National Guard Bureau Office of Athletics and Youth Development. “This program gives them a second chance.”

Program statistics show that more than 2,500 American students drop out of high school on any given day.

The program, which has produced 62,000 graduates since 1993, teaches cadets discipline, teamwork and leadership, among other skills. After completing a 22-week orientation, the cadets are paired with mentors, who help them make informed choices.

During the Congressional Quiz Bowl, high school dropouts from 12 program sites across the country answered written questions in academic areas such as history and chemistry.

Sean Mitchell, 18, a cadet based in Maryland, said the program “opened our eyes” to the importance of acquiring an education and living an orderly life.

“Before I came here, I was a lot different,” he said.

The cadets also met with members of Congress, who praised the program for its success in helping dropouts reform their lives.

“One of the single biggest problems in our nation is the high dropout rate,” said Sen. Johnny Isakson, Georgia Republican.

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