Last Thursday afternoon, David Cooke, Mark Walden, Mike Lewis, and I had the opportunity tour a great facility that has recently been established in Harlan County, Kentucky. The Appalachian ChalleNGe Academy got it’s start in the summer of last year, and has since been changing the lives of at-risk teens in the state of Kentucky. The academy is a 22-week school in which students live in a military-like setting while working towards furthering their high school education. Students participate in rigorous physical training, complete community service based projects, and take online courses to earn high school credit or earn a GED.

We were taken on a tour by three cadets who have received special honors – three young people that have incredible futures ahead of them thanks to the academy. They were not reluctant to share their stories with us; stories of struggle and success, each finding their way to the academy due to some manner of fate. We saw their sleeping quarters, cafeteria, “kill zones”, classrooms, and wrapped up the tour by meeting with the school’s director, who seems very excited to get Grow Appalachia involved in the academy’s work.

The plan, as discussed in this meeting which also included two members from the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, is to implement a farming program into the academy’s curriculum. This program would teach students how to grow food, as well as tacking on all of the other benefits and rewards of farming – self discipline, responsibility, and hard, sweaty work – just to name a few. The students at the academy may also be paired with a war veteran in the area, as a sort of mentorship program. The plan is to establish a few raised beds directly on the academy’s campus, and have a larger plot about a mile away on a rather scenic plot that overlooks the mountains of eastern Kentucky.

This is such an exciting opportunity, and this excitement seemed to be felt by all during the meeting. Everyone is eager to get the ball rolling on this project; there’s no shortage of positive energy here! I feel that it’s safe to say students will be excited for this project as well, based on the tiny tomato plants that were growing in pots along the school’s front stoop. We were told that students were so excited to see growth and flowering happening with the plants they had been tending to.

If you’d like to read more about the Appalachian ChalleNGe Academy, click here!