The goal of our First Star Academy program is to leverage the academic knowledge, life skills and community at major universities to address the statistic that only 3% of foster youth earn a Bachelor’s Degree as a ladder for overcoming the life risks associated with foster care.
First Star partners with universities and child welfare agencies throughout the country to make a long-term investment in foster youth and change the course of their lives, from abuse and neglect to academic achievement and self-sufficiency. The Academies are the country’s only long-term programs for high school foster youth that include both four immersive residential summers on a university campus, and monthly sessions during each school year. During the residential sessions, the youth are not only supported by highly qualified professionals, but also by peer mentors who are former foster youth attending the host university. Throughout all four years, Academy staff provides holistic, long-term education case management to the youth and their families to sustain the progress youth make during the university-immersion sessions.
The First Star Academies currently serve approximately 250 youth across seven campuses: UCLA, University of Connecticut, University of Rhode Island, George Washington University (DC), Rowan University (New Jersey), University of Central Florida, and Loyola University (Chicago). The First Star Academies have significantly improved the outcomes of participating youth across the country. Several new Academies are launching in the second half of 2016. 99% of youth who have completed four years of programming have graduated high school, and 91% have enrolled in higher education, including a significant proportion to four year universities.
The First Star Academies keep youth on track for high school graduation, and prepare them for higher education and adulthood by providing specialized programming that addresses: (1) academics; (2) life skills; and (3) caregiver and mentor engagement.
Foster youth have the poorest education outcomes in the country because of school instability and unaddressed special education needs. By third grade, more than 80% are retained, and by eleventh grade, less than 20 percent are proficient in English or Math. Only half of foster youth ever graduate high school, and only three percent earn a college degree.
The Academies reverse these trends for participating youth through targeted academic instruction and education advocacy. During the Summer Academies and monthly sessions, experienced instructors teach the youth grade-specific content and provide remedial supports as needed. These instructors also provide PSAT and SAT/ACT prep to ensure the youth are competitive during the college admissions process. Academies review youths’ school records, track their progress towards high school graduation, and identify and secure any supports they need to succeed in school. The Academies strive to work with the youths’ caregivers, social workers, attorneys, and schools to develop a coordinated academic plan for high school graduation and admissions to higher education.
Foster youth often lack the skills needed to successfully transition into adulthood. At age 18, they are often expected to independently manage their education, employment, housing, healthcare, and finances without the support of other adults. The Academies develop a life skills workshop curriculum to ensure the youth are prepared for adulthood. Workshops include topics such as higher education, budgeting, identity theft, housing, hygiene, healthy relationships, and substance abuse.
Caregiver and Mentor Engagement
Too often, foster youth repeatedly move placements and exit foster care without any family or permanent adult supports. The Academies strive to work with attorneys and social workers to ensure youth are in appropriate foster homes, and then engage caregivers to ensure they have the supports needed to keep youth in their homes. Where appropriate, biological parents are engaged and supported to help with the reunification process. In addition, by working with local partners, the Academies identify and train adult mentors who provide additional support to the youth as they transition into higher education. The goal of these efforts is to ensure that they youth do not transition into adulthood without a team of adults who can provide ongoing and continued support.