By EILEEN MCCLORY Reporter
Kent State University’s resolution for 2020 is to help children in the foster care system in northeast Ohio realize they can succeed once they age out of the system, usually at age 18 or 21.
Eighth-graders who have been placed into foster care and have been affected by the opioid crisis in nine northeast Ohio counties — Portage, Summit, Cuyahoga, Stark, Ashtabula, Tuscarawas, Geauga, Columbiana and Mahoning — will be eligible for First Star – Kent State Academy, which will provide extra support and tutoring so they can be ready to attend college, the military or to get a job after graduating from high school. Kent State plans to accept between 20 and 30 children into the program, depending on how many apply, and they’ll have support throughout the rest of high school.
Fewer than three percent of children who age out of foster care will go on to attend college, according to the university.
“We wanted to do something because we believe in the opportunities that could make a difference in these children’s lives,” said Melody Tankersley, Kent State interim senior vice president and provost.
If interested, children can apply through their county Job and Family Services program or the equivalent in their county. The first sessions are expected to begin in April.
Kent State began looking into the possibility of doing something for children in foster care last year, said Amy Reynolds, dean of the College of Communications at Kent State. She said a communications class began looking into solving the opioid crisis and foster care crisis in Ohio with communications, so that’s when she began to learn about the issue.
“We felt like to get started we really wanted to get involved with the opioid crisis,” Reynolds said.
An alumnus put Reynolds in contact with First Star, a nonprofit that partners child welfare agencies with universities and school districts to ensure youth in foster care have the academic, life skills and adult support needed to successfully transition to higher education and adulthood.
First Star says 98% of its academy students graduate high school and 87% enter postsecondary education.
Earlier this year, the university received $499,000 from the Ohio Department of Higher Education’s OhioCorps Pilot program, which focuses on serving at-risk youth. The program’s first classes will likely be held in the late spring, according to the university.
Danielle Welch-Green was hired earlier this year at Kent State as the academy director. She previously worked in for the Emancipation Unit of the Cuyahoga County Division of Children and Family Services, helping children who were aging out of the foster care system in Cuyahoga County. She said the goal of the academy was creating a stable, safe environment for the kids, and kids who are adopted or reunited with their parents would be allowed to continue in the program if they’ve already been accepted.
She said while the program was currently focusing on youth affected by the opioid crisis, she eventually hoped the program would expand to include more kids in foster care.
Keri Richmond, a Kent State alumna and formerly a child in the foster care system, said she thought the mentorship aspect of the program, where people at Kent State will work with the youth and adults who are a part of their lives, would be especially helpful. Mentors were a huge part of her life, and they always looked different, she said.
“Teachers, coaches, my friend’s parents,” Richmond said. “They made a huge difference in me realizing I had the potential to go to college.”