ORANGE PARK – A glimpse of past pain briefly marred the startling intense gaze of Alexis Bastin as she spoke about what led her to this point. An abusive father had her feeling worthless and …
ORANGE PARK – A glimpse of past pain briefly marred the startling intense gaze of Alexis Bastin as she spoke about what led her to this point. An abusive father had her feeling worthless and without purpose in life. Losing one of her closest friends only served to send her even further down a dark path. Sneaking out and skipping school became the norm. Substance abuse was just another way to escape those feelings. Then an encounter with a Clay County Sherriff’s officer changed everything.
“He showed up at my house when me and my mom were having an argument. He told me that I needed to change my life or I was going to end up in jail if I kept going down the path I was going down,” said Bastin. “He recommended the academy as a way to avoid that.”
The academy Bastin is talking about is the Florida Youth Challenge Academy.
Established in 2001, the academy is a voluntary boot camp style alternative high school based on the campus of Camp Blanding. The program, which is open to students statewide, is funded by the Florida National Guard, state departments of Juvenile Justice and Children and Families, while the teachers are provided by the Clay County School District.
Bastin was one of 137 cadets who graduated from Class 34 on June 12. Class 34 started with over 170 cadets, but for various reasons, only 137 made it to graduation and the graduation ceremony.
The class completed the almost six-month program and are moving on to the next stage in life. Some will be going to college, some to the military or the workforce while others will be returning to their local high schools to complete their education there.
Bastin will return to Ridgeview High near Orange Park where she plans to graduate in 2020 although she hopes to use credits she’s earned at the academy to speed up the process.
While she says the first few weeks were rough, Bastin quickly began to flourish in the academy. She was placed in multiple leadership roles, including becoming the Platoon Sergeant for First Platoon, also known as the Cougars. She excelled at physical training, won numerous awards and was always eager to help and motivate other cadets. Bastin was also part of the Ambassador Program where she travels and speaks to everyone from teachers to government officials about the academy and what it is doing in her life.
“I didn’t have respect for anyone, now I have complete respect for everybody,” said Bastin. “I’m in the habit of saying yes sir and yes ma’am to everbody.”
The change was noticeable to everyone she knew, according to Bastin.
“I thought I deserved the world, I was entitled. I’ve learned work before play,” said Bastin. “When I first went home, my family was like ‘whoa’.”
The graduation ceremony proceeds as normal, with some noticeable differences from a usual high school graduation.
The class was first introduced by platoon rather than the class as a whole with each platoon performing their own unique drill routine to introduce themselves.
The guest speaker for the ceremony was Alice Sims, assistant secretary for the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice. She talked about the importance of what she called her “three D’s” which are dedication, determination and discipline and her mantra of “no excuses.”
“I was told that I would never make it, that I’d never be anything,” said Sims. “I went on to be a seven-time All American and two-time National Champion in track and field at FSU and was just inducted into the Florida Track and Field Hall of Fame this year. If I can do it, you can do it too.”
After giving out awards and scholarships to a few of the stand-out cadets, the graduates received their diplomas.
After the ceremony, the graduates moved to their families to begin their journey back home, whether that be local or elsewhere in the state.
While their experience at the academy and their past may still play out in some of their minds, Bastin is only focused on one thing – moving forward. The flash of pain from earlier has been replaced with a look of hope.
“I need to move on from my past. I need to focus on my future. My parents finally trust me and are proud of me.”