State seeks high school dropouts for boot camp

ANTOUL, Ill. (AP)—The wake-up call comes at 5:30 a.m., and the long days will include classes and community service.

The payoff: After 22 weeks, 300 high school dropouts finally will earn their diplomas.

The Illinois National Guard still is seeking applicants for ‘‘Lincoln’s Challenge,’‘ a boot camp intended to improve the lives of struggling teens.

‘‘It’s modeled after the military, but I don’t want to scare any students away,’‘ said Senior Airman Susan Lynch, who is screening applicants. ‘‘We’re not here to yell and scream and put them down. We’re here to help them.’‘

The National Guard so far has accepted 225 recruits for the first class but has room for 300, Lynch said Wednesday.

People ages 16 to 18 will begin arriving at Chanute Air Force Base, 15 miles north of Urbana, on Sept. 19.

With $4 million from the federal government, Illinois is among 10 states involved in the unusual effort to rescue dropouts.

Wearing blue pants and a blue shirt, the teens will spend four hours in class each morning and tackle a community service project in the afternoon, probably at the base or elsewhere in Champaign County.

There will be computer labs as well as instruction in money management, family responsibilities and first aid. The recreation will include co-ed sports.

‘‘Our main goal is to get them their GED,’‘ or graduate equivalency degree, Lynch said.

There will be no trips home until Christmas, she said, although the recruits can see visitors—if they earn the privilege. The students will be divided into ‘‘flights’‘ of 20 in each group.

They will lose certain perks if a majority in each group ‘‘fail an inspection of their clothes, their rooms, their assignments,’‘ Lynch said.

She acknowledged that the rigid lifestyle might be uncomfortable.

‘‘We do have counselors here to help them before they decide to walk away,’‘ Lynch said. ‘‘We have no legal connection to them. They can leave, but they can’t come back for the second class.’‘

There’s a nice reward to anyone who finishes the program: $2,200 for more education at a college or trade school. The money also can be used for a job search.