As the nation celebrates the class of 2020 and the resilience of graduates during a worldwide pandemic, it can be easy to forget that some students face huge challenges to high school graduation even in “normal” times. Living in foster care can make school feel like a perpetual marathon. In Jefferson County, a program called Fostering Opportunities helps them cross the finish line.
Fostering Opportunities is an innovative student engagement program for middle school and high school students who have experienced foster care. Its goal is to help youth who have experienced foster care to be successful in school and ultimately earn a high school credential.
Fostering Opportunities addresses the reality of life in foster care, including fluidity in living situations, changing caregivers, and unstable eligibility for services. The program aligns child welfare and educational systems and aligns data to track students across placements and schools. Most importantly, it assigns a “Specialist” to work with each student and serve as an advocate, mentor, and supporter.
Jeffco Schools and Human Services are thrilled with the success they’re seeing in the Fostering Opportunities program. They have created a Selection of Happy Stories to celebrate and share the difference that the program is making in the lives of students. One example:
Damian began participating in the Fostering Opportunities program when he was in 8th grade. One of the first things he shared with the Specialist was that his goal was to play football in high school. The Specialist could tell this was important to him. The Specialist helped Damian understand that his grades and attendance matter in high school sports and that to play, he will have to maintain both. Damian and the Specialist practiced setting attainable academic goals all year so he could earn some of the gear he would need to be ready for football season. It would be his first time on a sports team so he was motivated to do his best.
The Specialist helped Damian connect with the coaches so he could try out for the team and ensure the school waived his participation fees. Damian worked hard in tryouts and earned a spot on the freshman football team. Damian could always count on the Specialist cheering loudly on the sidelines at each of his home games..
The Colorado Evaluation and Action Lab supports Fostering Opportunities as it works to achieve its goals. First, the Colorado Lab partnered with Jeffco to develop a Program Manual that helps practitioners implement the program with fidelity. The Colorado Lab also serves as the lead evaluator of the Fostering Opportunities program in Jeffco Schools.
This time next year, initial results of the randomized controlled trial evaluating the impact of the program on attendance, behavior, and course completion will be available. To date, Fostering Opportunities has consistently served approximately 85% of students on a continuous basis for at least three months, defying typical expectations for participation. This means participating students are experiencing consistent educational support even if they change schools or foster care placements or are reunified with their families. The high level of participation is impressive and an early indicator of success.
Fostering Opportunities did not miss a beat when Jeffco school district was among the first to transition to remote learning. Fostering Opportunities is a unique educational intervention because it is designed to meet students wherever they are and activate educators, caregivers, and caseworkers to find out solutions that allow for full participation in school.
— Dr. Elysia Clemens, Colorado Lab
The pandemic has highlighted the importance of programs, like Fostering Opportunities, to ensure that valuable students do not fall through the cracks.
– David Kollar, Jeffco Schools
The value of Fostering Opportunities during the pandemic is highlighted in the following example:
A student who receives English Language Learning support through the district was struggling to engage in one of his classes following the transition to remote learning. The specialist recognized he was avoiding doing work in this class. The student said, “It’s just too hard.” The Specialist communicated with the teacher who then realized they hadn’t provided the appropriate accommodations for the student. Once the teacher adhered to the student’s English Language Learning plan, the student and teacher worked together to improve his grade and ensure he could successfully pass the class.
The Fostering Opportunities program in Jeffco receives its financing through a state-sponsored program called Pay for Success. Philanthropic funders including Community First Foundation pay for the program’s implementation, and if it is successful, the state pays the funders back with a small amount of interest. Read more about Pay for Success here.