Imagine: One hundred young adolescents enroll in the ninth grade, bright-eyed and hopeful. Within four years, a whopping 94 of these youths find themselves without the skills, the education, the resources or supports necessary to secure a safe, stable and healthy future. Twenty-six classmates have failed to graduate high school. Within one year of their 18th birthday, 47 youth are unemployed and 24 are homeless or couch-surfing. Almost half of the boys (44.6%) have become incarcerated. Of the original cohort, only 6 students pursue higher education. Of those, only 3 or 4 may achieve a college degree, if they are lucky. As might be expected, hope evaporates and is replaced by disillusionment, despair, and mistrust.
Now replace imagination with truth: these shocking statistics reflect reality for over 400,000 youth in the American foster care system. These youth face different homes, different schools, few opportunities for personalized guidance and support, interruptions in their educational trajectory, and limited financial resources. This is a group truly at risk of missing the benefits of success in higher education and beyond.
First Star is restoring hope for these youth through Foster Youth Academies programs around the nation. These Academies offer college-focused residential programs strategically located on college campuses with monthly follow-up programs. Our students receive superior academic support, enrichment and encouragement to help them prepare for and enter two- and four-year colleges. Thus, the Academies are laying a foundation to improve the likelihood that these youth will seek and attain higher education, good jobs, personal wellbeing, career advancement, economic independence, and the ability to contribute to society as responsible citizens. This groundbreaking program was first envisioned by First Star Board Member, Dr. Kathleen Reardon, in her book Childhood Denied.
Groups of students from Los Angeles and the state of Rhode Island, entering ninth and tenth grades are participating in Academies on the campuses of the University of California, Los Angeles (launched in 2011), the University of Rhode Island (launched in 2012), and the University of Connecticut (launched in 2013). The First Star Academy on The George Washington University campus in Washington, D.C. commenced operation in the summer of 2012.
Components of the Academies provide a residential environment that includes:
- A 4-6 week residential college stay with highly proficient, experienced staff
- A comprehensive introductory college immersion program
- Undergraduate academic course credits
- Encouragement, motivational training, and Life Skills instruction
- A laptop computer, video camera and comprehensive instruction in self-advocacy and expression through the safe and proficient use of these technologies
- A caring adult network, foster “alumni,” and young adult mentorship
- Superior individualized attention and services
- Integrated, interdisciplinary campus programs and resources
- Access to selected campus services
- Top quality, healthful food services
- Monthly follow up programs and evaluation to prepare for future Summer Immersion sessions (every year through high school graduation).
For a profile of this transformative experience, told by the UCLA students themselves, see their summer 2011 video by clicking here
First Star intends to establish Foster Youth Academies nationwide to ensure that high school- aged youth in care are afforded the supports and services to succeed in high school, college and adulthood. In addition to summer on-campus “immersion” Academies with monthly follow-up, we are expanding the model into year-round residential college preparatory schools strategically located on college campuses.
First Star is grateful for the many local, regional and national partners making the Academies a reality: at each Academy location the local university, child welfare system, public school system, and family/juvenile court system are collaborating to produce high-quality programming. Sponsors are contributing financial support, professional consultation, volunteer workshop presenters, and numerous other types of assistance to help these youth grow and thrive.