The Texas bill would send students who fight in school to the referral program at Eagle Lake

Representative Steve Toth helped create Texas HB 34, which aims to establish a referral program for students who engage in violent criminal behavior in school.

EAGLE LAKE, Texas – A Texas state representative is proposing a bill he believes will reduce fighting in schools. It is a referral program for children who engage in violent behavior.

Currently, when kids fight at school, administrators have a couple of options. They can suspend them or send them to alternative schools.

Rep. Steve Toth wants fighting children sent to a Texas National Guard-sponsored program in Eagle Lake, Texas instead.

KHOU 11 was invited to the campus for an inside look at how the program works. About 80 cadets were enrolled.

One of them was Private First Class Joshua Crane, age 16. He has a big responsibility at the Texas ChalleNGe Academy. It’s his job to make sure his platoon is up to speed and on time.

Earlier this school year, Crane admits, he was marching to the beat of a different drum.

“Mostly I was getting into trouble with my friends. They had like weed and vapes and those kinds of things I shouldn’t have. I kept doing the same things and my dad was catching me. I was enrolled in the AEP Enrollment Alternate Placement because I kept getting into trouble at school. I got busted at school one day and ended up getting a court date,” said PFC Crane.

Crane says his social worker presented The ChalleNGe Academy as an option.

“At first, I thought it was like boot camp, you know, they would yell in my face and call me bad names,” Crane said.

But Crane and the other cadets who signed up quickly learned that the academy is not a punishment. Rather it is an opportunity to grow and form new habits.

Cadets sleep, eat and go to school on campus for five and a half months.

Ten weeks later, Crane had already moved on. He says he’s lost weight and found more productive ways to spend his free time.

“I started reading a lot more,” Crane said. We go to the library every Tuesday and I also write letters. I’m just doing things that seem to be better for my brain.

The program caught the attention of Representative Steve Toth.

“We need a robust diversion program that allows children to continue getting an education while learning discipline while learning boundaries, Toth said.

Toth helped create Texas HB 34, which aims to establish a referral program for students who engage in violent criminal behavior in school.

“If it’s a systematically abusive child who assaults teachers and other students, and they all have failed means, then we can say, you have a choice, your child will go to prison for criminally assaulting someone, or they are going to go through the ChalleNGe program at Eagle Lake,” Toth said.

Texas ChalleNGe Academy director David Ramirez calls it “Texas’ best kept secret.”

“Week four is when they’re starting to hear the yes ma’am, no ma’am, yes sir, no sir from our kids,” Ramirez said.

Ramirez says 64 percent of youth who enter the program will complete it.

“What I can tell you is that our program works. We have had many young people who come to this program who have had previous cases of violence, acting out, disorder in school, and they have come to this program and have been very successful,” Ramirez said.

PFC Crane is more than halfway there.

“I want to make my father proud and I want to make myself proud. I don’t want to be someone who does drugs and skips school, doing all of that is not the person I want to be. So, this gives me an opportunity to regain some of the things I’ve lost. I’ve already made a commitment not to use drugs when I go back (to school),” Crane said.

The ChalleNGe Academy is a free program that is paid for through the state legislature and is also matched by federal funds. To be eligible, applicants must be Texas residents between the ages of 16 and 18 and cannot have or be accused of a felony.

The program typically requires up to 150 cadets per cycle. Director Ramirez says he would like to see enrollment grow to 300 youth. But that would require new buildings and upgrades.

Rep. Toth says if HB 34 passes, he will also work to secure the funding needed to expand the program.

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