Lakeview school board hears Youth Challenge success story

By Mike Taylor • Last Updated 11:52 am on Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Lakeview High School Principal Gary Jensen, left, introduces recent Youth Challenge graduate Preston Wirth to the Lakeview school board. — Daily News/Mike Taylor

LAKEVIEW — Members of the Lakeview Community Schools Board of Education got a firsthand look Monday evening at the positive results Youth Challenge — a Battle Creek military academy — can have on “at risk” students.

Lakeview High School Principal Gary Jensen introduced the board to student Preston Wirth, who recently completed six month’s training at the academy. Wirth attended Youth Challenge after Jensen suggested it following numerous school infractions on Wirth’s part.

“Every time he was in trouble and in my office, he would talk about how he wanted to get in the military,” Jensen said. “I told him if he didn’t graduate, he was not going to be a soldier. They just don’t do it like that anymore.”

After Wirth was finally ejected from school on a more-or-less permanent basis, he decided to get his act together and enroll in Youth Challenge. According to his mother, Brooke Hilliker, her son handled all the paperwork himself.

“I told him if he wanted to be treated like an adult, he’d have to handle his own affairs like an adult,” Hilliker said. “He took care of everything.”

After six months at the academy, Wirth came out a changed man. A phone call to Jensen asking that he be reinstated to Lakeview High School was greeted with more than acceptance.

“I told him he was absolutely welcomed back,” Jensen said. “Anyone who graduates from Youth Challenge is welcome at my school.”

The experience in Battle Creek was nothing but good for him, Wirth said, although he admits it was a fairly rigorous routine.

“It was six months, but it felt like three weeks,” Wirth said. “It’s a military school, so the first three weeks was basically physical training, like you’d get at boot camp. There was a lot of pushups and running and doing PT (physical training).”

After the first few weeks, academic classes were added to the routine, along with the physical training. The Youth Challenge graduate who addressed the school board Monday night bore little resemblance to the troubled youth Wirth once was.

“I have to thank Mr. Jensen for giving me the chance to do something I wanted to do,” Wirth said. “Now my plan is to pursue a career in the military as a machinist.”

Next May, Wirth is heading for Fort Jackson, in South Carolina, where he will enter basic training in the U.S. Army. After that he’s off to Fort Lee, Va., for schooling.

“After that, hopefully, I’ll be deployed overseas,” Wirth said.

In other school board business, board members got their first look at the district’s new live video streaming service when the Lakeview Middle School band appeared on-screen in the high school library while playing live at the middle school.

According to Lakeview Middle School Principal Tim Erspamer, the live video feed has proven to be a hit with parents and grandparents of middle school students.

“Last week, a grandmother in Boston watched her grandson’s performance live,” Erspamer said. “We don’t have a ton of tech, but what we do have a lot of teachers and students use.”

The board also voted unanimously in favor of putting a bond proposal on the ballot on Feb. 26. If passed by voters, the bond would adjust the system’s current 6.92 mills to 7.0 and also would extend its current debt. For a taxpayer owning a home with a current market value of $80,000, the increase to his or her current annual tax levy would be only $3.20 per year.

The board also accepted the resignation of varsity girls basketball coach Corey Kohler, who resigned citing health issues and family obligations.

The board meets next at 7 p.m. Jan. 14.

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