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Kuchler, Kenneth
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Gifted under-achiever and Hamilton Vice-Principal bond through Youth Challenge Academy

MICHELLE MCCONNAHA, January 21, 2018

While many students at Montana Youth Challenge Academy are at-risk for not graduating high school due to their behavior, Jeremy Cheetham was a gifted underachiever who chose isolation over friendships and skipping school rather than completing assignments.

Jeremy Cheetham’s time at the academy unlocked his learning potential and removed his loner attitude as developed a friendship with Hamilton High School Vice-Principal Joel Stuber, who volunteered to be his mentor.

While at the academy, Jeremy Cheetham caught up with his schoolwork and earned the credits he needed. Today, he's on track to graduate from Hamilton High School. He also learned self-esteem, social skills, and the value of setting long-term goals. He credits the academy’s highly structured environment, caring staff, and Stuber. "I get along with her so really well," Jeremy Cheetham said.

Zach Cheetham, Jeremy’s dad, said Stuber was considering retirement, but had a special connection with his son and decided to stick around to see him graduate. "When Jeremy was in school, he had his own desk in her office and that was somewhere he could go," Zach Cheetham said. He and his wife, Nicole, had heard positives reviews of MYCA from a friend whose daughter successfully graduated from the program several years ago.

"When we were driving past Dillon one day we stopped for a tour," he said. "We were blown away by the facility, how it was run and the programs. Last year Jeremy was falling behind. Not because he wasn’t smart enough, but just because he wasn’t going to school. We thought this would be an alternative to getting him caught up, but he had to make his own choice to attend."

MTYC has two academic tracks. One prepares students to take a high school equivalency exam (Hi-SET) previously called a General Equivalency Diploma test (GED). The other uses the academic classes and credit recovery program to return to high school and graduate with a diploma. Cheetham was just a bit behind and now expects to graduate early with a traditional high school diploma. "He is pretty bright, so tests pretty high," Stuber said. "When he first started he would do his Hi-SET (program) but while there changed his mind to complete his courses."

Zach Cheetham said he is amazed at the transformation of his son at the academy. "In his weekly calls home he’d say ‘I want to get my diploma’ or ‘I want to get a job and I need work experience.’ I’d be like ‘Who is this?’" Zach Cheetham said.

Stuber said she saw the difference between high school and the academy. "Jeremy was one of my frequent fliers," Stuber said. "He’d be in the office all the time and we’d have a periodic talk about what he’d like to do in life and he’d say ‘Play video games.’ But when we started the mentor program he’d say ‘I’d like to study the body and why and how it ages.’ He was thinking about long-term goals at that point, which we never had before."

Jeremy Cheetham said his favorite subject is science in general and he enjoyed health and two biology classes at HHS. When he signed up to attend the academy, he thought it was a school program and was a bit surprised at the quasi-military design. MYCA is sponsored by the National Guard and students wear uniforms, march to and from classrooms, and follow the Army’s physical fitness regimen.

Eight hours of sleep, three nutritious meals, an hour of physical exercise and a highly structured day helped Jeremy Cheetham excel with the physical challenges and compete for top physical honors. He was also selected for leadership positions - and he made friends. "There are a lot of good parts to the academy," Cheetham said.

By his own choice, at HHS he restricted his options, friendships, and interactions. Stuber said that when visiting him at the academy Jeremy Cheetham told her he decided to be friendly to everyone – a big change.

Layne Mikesell-Bolles of Florence was looking for an alternative to a traditional education and a place to learn how to work better with others. The MYCA was the perfect fit as he was selected to serve in the cadet leadership position of executive officer, then earned the highest leadership position of company commander. He also attained his Hi-SET.

Mikesell-Bolles has two mentors – his grandparents, Roger and Joyce Mikesell, who will help him set employment goals, educational opportunities, and keep the standards and life skills he learned at the academy. He plans to work for his parents’ construction company as a general laborer.

Each graduate has a mentor to connect with weekly for 14 months, first to build trust then to keep the graduate focused on goals set at the five-month academy in Dillon.

Other Bitterroot graduates from the 37th class of MYCA are Hayly Frost and Amanda Robbins of Corvallis, and Ruben Forgette of Florence.

The Montana Youth Challenge Academy assists at-risk Montana youth, ages 16-18, in developing the skills and abilities necessary to become productive citizens through focusing upon their physical, emotional and educational needs. MYCA was established September 1999 and has 2,770 graduates from the highly structured program.

Montana Youth Challenge Academy graduate Jeremy Cheetham is back at Hamilton High School to get his diploma. Hamilton High School Vice-Principal Joel Stuber is serving as his mentor for the next year. MICHELLE MCCONNAHA






For more information, contact MYCA at 1-877-367-6927 or visit its website at





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