At Discovery ChalleNGe Academy (DCA), we recognize that teens make choices that can steer them off course, disrupting or halting their plans to graduate high school. Our 22-week residential program, delivered in a highly structured, quasi-military format, emphasizes self-discipline, personal responsibility and positive motivation. Students, referred to as Cadets while on campus, not only take classwork to complete credits for high school graduation, but they also participate in workshops and skills training in areas like coping strategies, job searching, heath and hygiene, responsible citizenship and leadership.

While the program requires cadets to meet military-standard expectations, it is not a boot camp. It is a military-style alternative education program supported by the National Guard; there is no military obligation.

We are a full-circle program, dedicated to helping cadets complete the program, achieve their diploma, and leave adequately prepared to use their new skills to find jobs and continue on a positive trajectory toward a healthy and productive lifestyle. Our 52-week Post-Residential Program gives Cadets access to an adult mentor who provides guidance and support after Cadets complete the 22-week program.

Our program outcomes, on both the local and national levels, reveal that this program works; we are changing lives. Let us help you put your life back on track.




Program overview

The Discovery Youth ChalleNGe Program, located in Lathrop, CA, is an alternative high school, operated by the California National Guard in partnership with the San Joaquin County Office of Education.

The Academy is a free 22-week residential, quasi-military style residential program that gives high school students, who are behind in credits, the chance to catch up and return to school or earn up to 65 high school credits that will enable them to earn their GED. In addition to academics, the Academy offers workshops and activities that develop life skills that build character, instill responsible behavior, promote career readiness and enhance health and physical fitness. These personal growth opportunities improve self-esteem and confidence.

There are two sessions each year that begin in January and July. Eligible students must attend an orientation and complete a questionnaire before they are invited to complete a full application. After applications are reviewed and approved, prospective Cadets will be invited to interview for a spot in the program. This is a voluntary program, and Cadets must have the desire to enroll and complete the program. Parents and guardians are welcome to attend the orientation session.

Are you ready to change your life?
Do you desire to change but don't know how to do it?
The first step is to attend an orientation and discover if this is a great fit for you.

Core Program Components

At DCA, our number-one priority is to set you up for success. We want our Cadets to not only earn a high school diploma, but also to develop the skills necessary to navigate adulthood. As Cadets move from the first two weeks (Acclimation) into the 20-week phase (ChalleNGe), they will experience programming centered on the following eight components:

Academic Excellence

Students are able to earn a high school diploma, GED, or CHSPE. Classroom curriculum is designed to enhance Cadets’ intellectual abilities and instill a desire to continue working on self-improvement. The Adult Basic Education Test (TABE) is used to evaluate educational performance and progress.

Life Coping Skills

Each cadet begins to explore their value structure and come to a better understanding of the attitudes, needs and desires that motivate them as individuals, members of the Academy and their community. Classes and workshops on substance abuse, anger management, stress management, team building skills, and budgeting are offered to enhance life skills.

Job Skills

We prepare Cadets for employment with career readiness and goal planning workshops in which they develop the basic skills necessary to conduct job searches. Cadets learn how to complete a written resume and employment applications, as well as how to conduct themselves during an interview.

Health and Hygiene

It is important that Cadets understand the positive correlation between good health and hygiene habits and life-long mental, physical and emotional well-being. Smoking cessation, nutrition and sexual responsibility are just a few of the topics covered in this area.

Responsible Citizenship

This component helps Cadets develop a better understanding of their role in society and in their community. They learn about the forces that make a community strong and supportive, as well as those that work to disintegrate a community. Cadets learn about civic responsibilities such as the importance of Voter Registration and Selective Service Registration.

Service to the Community

Cadets develop an understanding of the benefits of volunteering with community projects and agencies. Cadets volunteer many hours while they are at the Academy, performing services for agencies such as the American Cancer Society and Special Olympics.


Cadets learn the value of being a good follower and a good leader, recognizing the traits needed to be successful in both roles and identifying situations in which each is valued in society. Cadets take leadership positions at the Academy and participate as members of the Color Guard and Drill and Ceremonies Corps.

Physical Fitness

Physical fitness training is a key component of the Academy experience as it encourages a lifelong commitment to physical, mental and emotional well-being. Cadets must show improvement in their physical fitness during the 22-week residential program. Activities include, but are not limited to: military style PT, running and organized sports.


The Discovery Youth Challenge Program has partnered with the San Joaquin County Office of Education (SJCOE) to provide educational services to the Cadets. Students attend classes on our Lathrop campus, Monday through Friday, except for holidays. They rotate between six academic core classes throughout the day.

If a student successfully completes all classes during the 22-week residential Challenge Phase of the program, they will earn 65 credits. Students also attend a variety of presentations and field trips as cooperatively arranged through the National Guard. Additional credits may be earned through extracurricular activities as pre-approved by the site administrator.

Students have many opportunities to participate in activities such as participating on the Associated Student Body student council and yearbook committee, or serving as a Library Assistant.

At Discovery ChalleNGe Academy, we encourage students to step out of their comfort zone and try activities they may have previously resisted. We are committed to assisting students, who have previously experienced school failure, develop a belief in themselves and their capabilities, while learning to embrace their own potential.

All teachers at Discovery ChalleNGe Academy are highly qualified in their subject area and SJCOE is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC).

The Academy has a Special Education program, designed to meet the needs of students who have identified learning disabilities. A Special Education teacher and instructional assistant assist all students functioning significantly below grade level. During an IEP meeting, parents, students and education staff evaluate goals and objectives to determine the necessary support and modifications. Other assistance provided include books on tape, extra time on assignments and tests, and tutoring.

Mission and Vision

Our Mission

The mission of the Discovery ChalleNGe Academy National Guard ChalleNGe Program is to intervene in and reclaim the lives of teens, ages 16-18, at risk of not graduating on time, through programs that develop life skills, values, education, and self-discipline necessary to succeed as productive citizens.

Our Vision

The vision of the Discovery ChalleNGe Academy (DCA) is to be recognized as the leading alternative educational program for High School dropouts. Discovery ChalleNGe Academy will meet the unique needs of its Cadets and assist them in making a successful transition to adulthood by fostering and perpetuating the Eight Core Components of ChalleNGe. Through mentoring and education, our graduates will be provided the life skills to be successful in their future endeavors.

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Students must have dropped out of high school, or are at risk of not graduating on time, and be 16-18 years old by the start of the Academy cycle (January or July). The applicant must never have been convicted of a felony other than juvenile status offenses. Applicants must be willing to become drug-free and be physically and mentally able to complete the program.
It is a free program, so there is no tuition charge for participants. The Discovery ChalleNGe Academy is an affiliate of the National Guard Youth Challenge Program, operated through a cooperative agreement between the National Guard Bureau and the State of California. The cost of attending, which is about $22,000 per Cadet, is funded by The Department of Defense (DOD) and the State of California. The cost of attendance is covered by these federal and state dollars; however, there are a few items Cadets will need (socks, shoes, t-shirts, sweatpants). The cost of these items is approximately $250. If you have any concerns, please reach out to our team; the cost of these items should not deter you from applying (assistance is available).
Applicants who are 15 ½ may begin the application process, but they must be age 16 by graduation day.
No, applicants must be at least 16 years old and no more than 18 years old (the applicant can turn 19 years old before graduation day).

DCA is a residential program that incorporates a highly structured, quasi-military format emphasizing self-discipline, personal responsibility, and positive motivation. Students, who are referred to as Cadets while at the Academy, must meet military grooming standards, wear military-type uniforms, and observe standard military customs and courtesies. Each class involves a three-phase program that begins with a two-week Acclimation Phase where the goal is to identify those students with the desire and discipline to complete the program. Students who successfully complete the Acclimation phase then enter the 20-week Challenge Phase in which the emphasis is on the Eight Core Component curriculum. Cadets must show improvement in each component.

After graduating, students begin a 52-week Post-Residential Phase in which each student works with an adult role model in a one-on-one mentoring relationship. The adult mentor provides the student advice, guidance, and support to help continue the positive successes and direction achieved during the Challenge Phase.

No. Discovery ChalleNGe Academy is a military-style alternative educational program. Students are not registering for the military. Only 7% of our graduates join the military after completing the program. Each year a diverse group of teenagers from all across the region, and from all walks of life, successfully complete the program.
No. This program is 100% voluntary, and the decision to attend Discovery ChalleNGe Academy must be made by the applicant. Students cannot be sentenced to, or ordered by a court to attend. No parent, court, judge or probation officer can force the teen to participate.
The Discovery ChalleNGe Academy territory is limited to Northern California. If you live in another region of California or in another state, visit our National Website to find our sister programs.
Be consistent in your letter writing to make sure that your child continues to feel encouraged and supported from home throughout the program.
The first step in the enrollment process is to attend one of our mandatory orientations. You are only required to complete a questionnaire to attend the orientation. Once you have attended orientation, you may complete the application. Learn more about the application process.
No. DCA is a residential high school operated by the California National Guard, which partners with the San Joaquin Office of Education. Discovery is not a therapeutic environment or a treatment facility. Health and well-being are key components to the program. Applicants must be willing to be drug-free to participate. Smoking secession assistance and substance abuse counseling are offered.

Partner Academies

In 1993, the U.S. Congress mandated the National Guard to form the National Guard ChalleNGe Program (NGYCP), which now consists of 40 sites in 27 states and Puerto Rico. The Discovery ChalleNGe Academy (DCA) is located in Lathrop, CA, and operated by the California National Guard in partnership with the San Joaquin County Office of Education. It serves students who live in Northern California. If you live in another region of California or in another state, visit our National Website to find our sister programs.

California ChalleNGe Academies

Sunburst Youth Academy (Southern California)

Grizzly Youth Academy (Central California)