Forced to Change Schools
In December, The Notebook released a powerful edition dedicated to the issues youth in foster care face in their educational journeys. We were happy to host a twitter chat with them on their coverage of the subject.
We thought it would deepen the conversation to invite youth advocates from our Youth Fostering Change advocacy program to share their own stories. In order to address the issues facing young people, it is paramount that their voices be at the table and treated as full partners in identifying needs and advancing policy reform. We hope you will enjoy this series. For related discussion, follow #FosterEdSuccess and #PHLed (for Philadelphia-specific content).
I first entered care at the age of 14, right before my 15th birthday. At this time, I was attending a High School in West Philadelphia. I want to point out that during my time at this high school, the school had somewhat of a reputation for being out of control and unstructured, but I attended, for about a year, before I was sent to a group home across the state and forced to change schools. At the same time as I was due to move, I was also in the middle of completing credit recovery for the classes I had missed the previous year and I had not done so well in. For me, this change was unexpected and hard to handle, especially because it came without warning. Before I could plan, I was transferred to the group home.
Attending School at the Group Home
The group home houses girls and boys and has children ages 12-19 on campus - it has two schools located right on the campus (“on-grounds schools”). One of the on-grounds schools is for the younger kids, and the other is for older kids. This new placement was a complete setback for me. I did not feel that the school was meeting my needs; they were not putting me where I needed to be. I was being placed in classes based on my age instead of my credits or knowledge.
Because of this structure, it made my learning experience and that of other students extremely hard because various portions of the class were on different levels in math and reading. As a result, some students were still learning basic math, while others were learning Algebra 2 or geometry. This meant that our teacher could not fully concentrate on one subject during class.
Problems Upon Return
In addition to issues with credits, I also had problems with my completed classes and credits being accurately displayed on my report card. I began to realize that some of the courses I had taken were not showing up on my report card. For example, I had taken an Algebra 2 course, but on my transcript, it read “math,” so it counted as an elective class and did not provide with actual credits. This became a major problem because I was not getting the right credit for these classes, in addition to being very challenged in school.
Eventually after complaining about their curriculum not being the best, my attorney and social worker finally made the decision to send me to an off grounds school. I was finally able to attend an off grounds school with one other student – only two of us out of the 100 students on the group home campus.
Benefits of Attending School in the Community
During my time that I spent at the regular public school, I felt like I was able to make up for a great deal of lost time. This school was harder than any school that I had attended, and it also gave me the chance to do regular school activities such as cheerleading and music class. Something else that was different to me was that we did mostly all of our work on the computer. We would write 10-page essays with a PowerPoint point on a regular day. This was a big transition for me, as I was going from just doing worksheets all the time and maybe three paragraphs, if that, to always having real work. This helped me learn to do more work with substance.
Denied a Voice in Her Own Case
Although the high school I was currently attending was a great school, I was made to believe from my social worker that I only had to stay for the first block, or first semester, of school and then could be discharged from my group home. However, this was not the whole truth. I was forced to stay at the group home to finish my school year.
I had already been at the group home for a little under a year, and I was under the impression from the court that I could leave in 3-6 months if I began to improve. Beginning from the time at which I went to the regular public school, however, staff at the group home and my private provider agency case worker wanted me to stay the whole school year, which was not what we had arranged.
After court, I continued my education at the off campus school. While I was getting a better education, I found out later that in order to graduate on time I needed more credits than the credits I had received previously in the Philadelphia School District. I already had 11 credits from my previous schools, but because I needed more credits and some of my credits did not transfer, I was told I had to complete 11th grade all over again. I tried to ask about completing credit recovery for some of my classes, but found out that was not available.
I was distressed and frustrated with everything that was happening in my life. I decided at my next court hearing I wanted to go to court and talk to the judge about what was happening, and that I wanted to be discharged because I felt that I was following the rules and doing what was expected of me. When my court date came, I spoke with my case worker at the group home who denied me the opportunity to go to court because they knew I was planning to do this, which upset me. Eventually, I was so tired and frustrated I gave up and just finished the school year.
Hard to Find a Supportive School
Through all my education pitfalls I still struggle at times with my education and know that the lack of support and experiences I have had impacted where I am now. After leaving the group home and being discharged from care without my permission by my last attorney, I began attending night school. I was presented with an option, at 18, to go to night school to finish the last five credits I need to graduate 12th grade, so I attended a night school in Philadelphia. This school was also such a setback for me because at the time, I had no stable place to live. I could not miss more than three classes. I tried to explain that it was difficult some days to be there on time or to get to school since I had to worry about where I was staying. I was forced to constantly start classes over each time.
Excited to Graduate
I eventually entered back into care and became stable with the help of Juvenile Law Center and my new lawyer from the Support Center for Child Advocates. This made my next attempt in attending a different school successful. The new school is supportive about working with me on my attendance. I am excited to graduate spring 2018.
Shanice Holmes is an youth advocate in Youth Fostering Change, one of our youth advocacy programs.