Lt. Col. Janet Zimmerman is retiring after 11 and a half years at the Youth Challenge Academy. (WRDW-TV / March 5, 2012)
News 12 at This Morning / Monday, March 5, 2012
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Awards fill Lt. Col. Janet Zimmerman's office space.
Soon they will be packed into boxes, along with the other accomplishments she's racked up in the last decade while at the Youth Challenge Academy.
"We graduate more kids than any Challenge program in the nation," she said.
This is an important number, considering many of her current cadets were one-time high school dropouts or came from troubled backgrounds.
"This has been the most rewarding job I have ever done including my work in the Army," she said.
From the moment there were talks of placing an academy on base, Zimmerman knew she was made for the job.
"I wanted to teach and I wanted to work with young people," she said.
During the past 11 years with the help and support of her team, she's managed to double the number of cadets cycling through from 100 to 200.
"They are far more likely to earn a credential, far more likely to get and keep a job," Zimmerman explained.
She added the biggest challenge was keeping every single cadet in line and keeping them from dropping out yet again.
"Lots of kids are professional quitters at 16, 17 and 18 and that's a shame," she said.
Many go from dropouts to becoming lawyers and doctors after completing the academy and going on to higher education.
"This is a place where positive change happens, but you have to be receptive and you have to be willing to try," she said.
As one of the most successful federally-funded programs, according to the Rand corporation, Zimmerman says she's not ready to leave it all behind as her last class graduates.
"I'm not the type to stop," she said.
The academy is looking to build a stronger partnerships with the Richmond County and Columbia County school systems. Zimmerman says since many students are not completing traditional schools, they want to work with schools to allow some students to finish up at the academy and still earn a diploma.
Her plans after retirement include consultant work and continuing to work with youth through various programs.