Thursday, August 17, 2006

Charter School for Foster Youth?

As a result of my recent Edspresso article, I was asked for my insights regarding a Maryland initiative. Basically, this group is trying to develop a charter school for foster youth living in the city of Baltimore.

This charter school would provide classes for elementary and middle school students. Staffing would be comprised of a team of teachers with expertise in helping foster youth succeed academically.

Partnerships would (hopefully) be developed with foster parents and group home staff, in order to develop a supportive community around school. This group is also looking into fund-raising, in order to provide extracurricular programs for foster youth during the summer.

Benefits of this program:
1.) Obviously, educational support, which many foster youth sorely need.

2.) Accountability for youth to show up at school.

3.) Focusing on elementary and middle students seems to be in order to establish early intervention, and to keep younger children from falling behind.

Risks of this program:
1.) Might overlook foster youth's need for "normalizing" experiences.
My first question was, "What opportunties will be given for foster youth to interact with nonfoster youth?" If even the extracurricular activities include only foster youth, those youth will be missing out on social opportunties with youth from more stable backgrounds.

As a foster alumni, I would have to say that my friendships with peers from different backgrounds were very valuable to me in developing a full and accurate picture of the world while growing up. Being around only other fosters can lead to a more "skewed" perspective. There needs to be a balance.

2.) Perceptions: How will youth view the program? How will it be viewed by the public? Hopefully not as an institution, because there can be some negative stigmas attached to that.

3.) Future transitions: How difficult will it be for middle school foster youth who "age out" of this charter school to adjust to regular high school? Will support drop off entirely?

Things to consider:
1.) Need for proactive community education:
It will be important to proactively share positive information about the program, every year, with high school guidance counselors and principals in the local area.
Otherwise, when youth age out of the program in middle school and enter high school, seeing the institute's name on their school records might lead to assumptions or stigma.

2.) Importance of challenging personal assumptions:
Teachers might need to challenge their preconceived assumptions of foster youth. Some foster youth excel academically, others struggle. There's no one set curriculum that will work with all foster youth.

3.) Regarding partnering with group homes and foster parents to develop a community... I'd be interested to see how that works out.

Group home staff don't always have the same level of investment as some of the more dedicated foster parents. There's less of a bond when it's a job that you come home from after you work your shift, versus a child who is actually living in your home.

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It sounds like a good transitional thing.
Any type of variety in the educational system, I am for.
I would also have to wonder how the community would see the kids who attended the school. I know that once teachers and other know that a child is *gasp* foster child, they suddenly view that kid as "bad" or "damaged".

Would the community view any child who attends that particular charter school as same?

Just a thought.
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