Giving Teens a Second Chance

Battle Born Academy is transformative for cadets, who reap the rewards of learning

Carson Statler-Ellamar earned the honor of holding the academy flag while leading a platoon of cadets during a hike near Lamoille Canyon. Photos Courtesy of Battle Born Youth Challenge Academy

By Dianna Troyer

A snowy windswept hike could not chill Carson Statler-Ellamar’s enthusiasm and radiant smile as he gripped the flagpole of the Battle Born Youth Challenge Academy while leading a platoon of his fellow cadets.

Carson earned the honor of marching with the flag during physical training near Lamoille Canyon, about 45 miles east of the Carlin-based academy, which is affiliated with the National Guard.

“In hindsight, with all my accomplishments at the academy, I feel joy and pride,” says Carson, who graduated from Battle Born in May 2021. “I earned multiple certificates, learned leadership skills, built job skills through mock interviews and prepared my resume.”

Other cadets will have the same opportunity when the academy’s spring 22-week semester begins in January.

The academy is part of the Elko County School District. The campus, owned by the Nevada National Guard, was formerly the University of Nevada, Reno Fire Science Academy.

Carson heard about the academy through his mother’s co-workers and researched the Battle Born Academy website.

“It offered me the chance to recover 6.5 credits and earn a high school diploma,” Carson says. “I also liked that I would learn self-discipline while working on my physical fitness and overall well-being.”

Social studies teacher Sabra Esparza presents Ezra Kramer-Brown with a certificate for earning the Social Studies Award. Ezra graduated in the fall of 2021.

The academic structure appealed to him.

“Classes were smaller, and for me the teaching styles were better compared to those in traditional high schools, making it easier for me to learn,” he says. “Having the opportunity to do community service projects was rewarding, too.”

Carson says his journey at the academy had lows and highs.

“In the beginning, I felt sad, homesick and a lot of stress,” he says. “Ultimately, on a personal level, I learned gratitude for family and friends as well as self-discipline through the quasi-military structure.”

The academy’s social studies teacher, Sabra Esparza, says it is rewarding to watch cadets transform and become self-reliant.

“They develop self-confidence as they become amazed at what they can accomplish—both physically and academically,” says Sabra, a Carlin resident who has taught at the academy since it opened in 2021. “They realize learning can be a rewarding, fun, lifelong process.”

Reclaiming Lives

The residential, tuition-free academy is affiliated with the National Guard Youth Challenge—a program launched nationwide in 1993 to reclaim the lives of at-risk youth ages 16 to 18 and produce high school graduates with the values, life skills, education and self-discipline to succeed as productive citizens.

After completing the program, cadets are matched with a mentor and offered assistance to enroll in college, trade school or start a career. More than 179,000 students have graduated through 40 programs in 28 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia.

Sabra says most cadets are behind in credits and struggling academically.

Students learn to be self-motivated during classes

“They’re tired of the traditional classroom setting: sitting at a desk and taking notes while listening to a lecture,” she says.

Sabra teaches students to be self-motivated, and to research and lead discussions.

“It’s called Socratic circle, and they respond well to it,” she says. “I’ll pick a current issue or problem, and they present facts and discuss different solutions. They learn, too, that they can disagree with each other and still be respectful.”

To learn about historical figures’ contributions to the world, they build a social media page about that person.

“They’ve done all kinds of people—from Henry Ford to Grace Coolidge,” Sabra says.

She also has them write and perform a play about a trial.

“They’re creative and come up with ideas I would never think of,” she says.

One trial focused on the innocence or guilt of a teen waiting for his friends in a car while they robbed a convenience store and killed someone.

“Is the person in the car innocent or an accomplice?” she says. “They had to decide.”

Making the Adjustment

Sabra says students adapt to the program’s rigorous schedule.

“I reassure them that they can adjust and tell them I know what it’s like to be in the military,” she says.

For 13½ years, Sabra served in the Army and Army National Guard. Stationed in the U.S. and Iraq, her assignments ranged from working with medical records to fixing helicopters as a mechanic.

Cadets relax after a hike at Carlin Canyon, which features the longest tunnel system in Nevada. From left are Esmerelda Bueno, D’umorier Helms, Adonte Parler and Caleb Moser.

“Students come from all kinds of backgrounds and sometimes have a rough unstructured home life,” Sabra says. “Here, they appreciate knowing they’ll have three meals a day, feel safe and sleep in the same place every night.”

The schedule includes physical training starting at 4:30 a.m. and attending classes from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. 5 days a week. Along with hiking and calisthenics, cadets sometimes do ropes and obstacle courses.

“They learn about teamwork,” Sabra says. “During one exercise, they walk across a balance beam, then the boards of different lengths are removed and they have to work together to replace them in a certain way to cross again.”

The academy’s target enrollment is 150.

Sabra says when students graduate, “whatever they decide to do next, they’re excited to have tools they need to succeed and fulfill their dreams.”