Challenge Academy Cadets Earn College Credit

Wisconsin Challenge Academy cadet Johnny Ladwig’s upbringing was never easy. He lived in three different foster homes growing up, having been neglected by his birth mother in Milwaukee. After living in several homes throughout his childhood, he was finally adopted into a family in Monticello.

School life was often difficult. Ladwig admits distractions, like video games, girlfriends, and lifting weights, often took up his time.

“Anything that wasn’t academic, I was doing,” he said.

Ladwig attended, and then left, boarding school. After another failed attempt at online classes, his school counselor gave a stern warning.

“At this rate, I wasn’t going to graduate,” he said. “That’s when the counselor mentioned the Wisconsin Challenge Academy.”

The Challenge Academy is an alternative education program designed for at-risk youth to provide values, skills, education and self-discipline necessary to succeed as adults.

At the end of the course, cadets can earn high school credentials. Under a new agreement with Western Technical College, however, students can now earn three college credits as well.

“We discovered the Challenge Academy’s curriculum satisfies the requirements of Western’s Professionalism and Success course,” said Tracy Noyes, Credit for Prior Learning specialist at Western. “These students will now not only earn their GED through the Academy, but three credits toward a degree.”

In December, members of Western traveled to Ft. McCoy for the cadets’ portfolio evaluations. Each cadet was required to present a number of items, including a resume. If the cadet fulfilled the course requirements, they were granted three credits to be used at any one of Wisconsin’s 16 technical colleges.

“Some were nervous, others were anxious, but most were excited,” said Noyes.

Like others, Ladwig was apprehensive about his presentation. After learning that he earned college credit, he was relieved and enthusiastic. 

“Once she said, ‘Congratulations, you have three college credits,’ that was a huge thing for me,” Ladwig said. “I’m just a happier person now. I’ve earned my way toward a good future.”

“I don’t think they realized the extent of it until we told them that they should update their resume in the education section to list Western Technical College,” said Noyes. “It does wonders for their self-esteem, you could just see the cadets beaming when we told them they successfully completed the work and demonstrated the competencies.”

All 88 cadets who presented that day earned college credit. As for Ladwig, he plans to enter the Marine Corps. Afterwards, he hopes to return to Western to complete his Fire Protection Technician associate degree.

“I’ve earned my way into life,” said Ladwig. “I feel like having a second chance at life was the greatest thing that has ever happened to me.”

Those interested in learning more about the Wisconsin Challenge Academy can visit To learn more about Credit for Prior Learning at Western, visit