Become a Cadet

Congratulations! By landing on this page, you have taken the first step toward earning your high school diploma and getting your life back on track. As you continue to explore this website, be sure to reach out to us with questions, or let us know if you need more help deciding on next steps.


What's it like to be a Cadet at Discovery ChalleNGe Academy?

We understand the importance of downtime. There are also field trips to local sporting events and service activities at places like the Emergency Food Bank or Special Olympics.

While this is not a military boot camp, our program is modeled on general military protocols. You will notice this quasi-military structure in our guidelines on grooming, dress code and focus on respectful behavior. As a Cadet, you are not a member of the military or the National Guard and have no obligation to join either once you complete the program.

Is it the right fit for you?

You may not be certain right now if this is the right program for you. That's why we invite you to attend an orientation session where you will meet our staff and other Cadets, who were once in your shoes. You can ask us any question on your mind, and then you can decide if the program is a good fit for you. Remember, you have to volunteer for this free program and approach it with a strong desire to make positive life changes. No one, not even a judge, can mandate your participation. Check out common questions Cadets often ask about our program.

What's the next step?

Learn more by exploring our website, or if you have questions, request more information and we will connect with you quickly. If you are ready to register for an orientation session, please read the eligibility requirements and then submit a questionnaire. Once your questionnaire is submitted, you can apply for an orientation session. Learn more about the application process.

The DCA Experience

The Cadets

Cadets are young men and women, ages 16-18, who are at risk of dropping out of high school, not graduating, or who have already quit school. Regardless of the circumstances that led them here, teens who are eligible are invited to apply for the upcoming class. Students with special needs and varied learning abilities have access to resources and trained educators on campus to help them succeed. Cessation of smoking and addiction programs are available, and behavioral counselors are on staff. If you have the desire to change, we are here to help.

The Program

Cadets live on campus for five and half months, attend classes, and earn 65 credits to fulfill high school graduation requirements. Out-of-the-classroom activities and experiences help students develop skills that build confidence and character and prepare them for careers and lives as productive citizens. The program enhances life skills, education levels and employment potential by helping students earn their diploma, or to set them up for a successful return to high school.

In the first two weeks of the program, Cadets are in an Acclimation Phase, where they prove they have the desire and discipline to complete the program. When they successfully complete this phase, Cadets move on to the Challenge Phase, which is 20 weeks in duration.

After successful completion of the program, Cadets are mentored for a full year to monitor their progress and ensure they continue the positive habits they learned in the program that will keep them on a track to be healthy and productive citizens.

The Campus

Our 53-acre campus is located in Lathrop, California and includes state-of-the-art classrooms, gym and barracks, all built since 2017.

The Partnership

In 1993, the U.S. Congress mandated the National Guard to form the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program (NGYCP), which now consists of 40 sites in 27 states and Puerto Rico. The Discovery Youth ChalleNGe Program is a community high school in Lathrop, CA, operated by the California National Guard in partnership with the San Joaquin County Office of Education.

The Outcomes

Upon completion of the program, Cadets and mentors complete a monthly survey to assess progress for an entire year. Based on our survey results, our program graduates are obtaining employment or joining the military with their diplomas.

Read more about our Discovery ChalleNGe Academy program outcomes as well as statistics on our national ChalleNGe program.

Parent Information

We have helped hundreds of students complete their high school education since 2017. We often hear from parents, who had once given up hope that their child could get back on track, that this program changed their life. This program works, but only if your teen voluntarily registers and is fully motivated to change.

If you have any doubts about the efficacy of our program, check out our outcomes page that provides data revealing completion rates and post-graduation outcomes. For many teens, this is the last chance for getting back on track. Most of them succeed, but the program isn't the right fit for everyone.

While this program is offered free of charge, the cost of attendance surpasses $22,000 per Cadet, and therefore, we carefully select students who are committed to completing the program.

You are welcome to attend the orientation program with your teen; however, please note that interviews will be conducted with prospective Cadets only.
Read more about the application process

Your question may be answered on our FAQ page, but if there is anything we can help you with, please CONTACT US.

  • * Can I still see my child?
  • * How can I stay connected to my child?
  • * How will I know how my student is doing?
  • * How can I best support my child?
  • Explore more questions on our F.A.Q. page

Application Process

Session Dates

We offer two sessions each year with start dates in January and July.

Eligibility Requirements

The first step in applying is to ensure that you meet all of the following eligibility requirements. In addition to meeting the following requirements, students must volunteer for the Academy. No parent, judge, probation office or school administrator can order a student to participate.

Students must

  • Enter the program willingly and as volunteers.
  • Be age 16 and will not turn 19 before the start of the program.
  • Be legal residents of the United States and the State of California; DACA students are accepted.
  • Be at risk of dropping out of high school or are credit deficient.
  • Be free of felony convictions.
  • Be residents of Northern California (residents outside of this area can view our list of partner Academies in California)

If you have met all of these eligibility requirements, you may now complete our simple three-step application process for the Discovery ChalleNGe Academy.

Attend Orientation and complete the initial questionnaire

Orientation attendance is mandatory to be eligible to apply to DCA. Parents/Guardians are highly encouraged to attend orientation. You will complete a questionnaire, and after it is considered, you may be selected to move forward to the interview stage. The full application must be completed prior to the scheduled interview.


Complete the full application

Once your questionnaire is reviewed and approved, you will receive another email asking you to complete the full application. Incomplete applications WILL NOT be considered. After completing the online application, you will need to download and complete the Sports Physical and Power of Attorney. Once those are complete, you have two options for submitting the documents:

  • Option one is to log into your application and upload your documents.
  • Option two is to simply bring the documents to your interview.
Complete Online Application Download Checklist/Physical Download Medical Power of Attorney

Personal Interview

Interview dates are only given to prospective cadets who attend an orientation session and complete the application. The dates are provided on a first-come-first-served basis. Remember, you are applying to attend an Academy that is free to you but has an estimated cost of $22,000 per cadet to the State of California and the Department of Defense. Appropriate attire for an interview would include pants (not jeans) and a nice shirt that demonstrate how much you have considered your outfit choice and reflect a neat and clean appearance.

Once you have completed the above steps, the acceptance process begins. After review of all applications, the Academy will contact each applicant via an acceptance call or a denial letter. This will be completed shortly before the next class begins.


Applying to Discovery is FREE

If you need assistance in filling out any of the application forms our staff is readily available to provide assistance!

(844) 633-3301

Orientation Information

Attending orientation is the first step in the application process. Attendance is mandatory in order to become eligible. Register for our next orientation below.

Our next Class begins January, 2023. If you would attend, first make sure you meet the basic eligibility requirements.


  • Class Start Date: July 14, 2024
  • What: Discovery ChalleNGe Academy Class 16
  • Where: 700 E. Roth Road, Lathrop, CA 95330
  • Counseling resources are available
  • Click Here to register for orientation


Please email or call (844) 633-3301 with any questions.


Prospective Cadet Questionnaire

Prospective Cadet Checklist

This is a comprehensive list of all documents you must submit with your application.


Post-Res Report

This form is for mentors and graduates to complete monthly.

The DCA Post-Residential Report is required to be completed monthly by mentors and/or mentees in the Post-Residential Phase. Please complete ALL sections of this form. If you have any questions or comments, please contact your case manager.


Full Online Application


Power of Attorney


Sports Physical Form


Mentor Application


Wellness Mart


Behavioral Health Requirement