Guardian scholar helps foster children transition into college
April 22, 2009 8:28 PM
Turning 18 can be more terrifying than liberating for most kids living in foster care. Aging out of the system means entering the adult world with little direction and little leverage for success.
For many, college quickly becomes an inconceivable option.
But at SF State, Guardian Scholars is now one of several support programs throughout CSU campuses that helps foster youth transition into college by supplying the same educational opportunities provided to students from intact families, according to a recent report by the CSU.
The program helps students with housing, financial aid and mentorship. Before the program began in 2005, only 33 percent of former foster care students made it past the first year of college. Now, more than 90 percent are continuing their education or have graduated, according to the report.
"It is a wonderful program because it really helps me feel that I still have someone, even after my emancipation from the system," said Randy Good, a freshman and guardian scholar at SF State.
"Guardian Scholars is less of a program and more of a family because no matter what, we have people that will support us and guide us to do the right thing," he said.
Around 100 former foster youth applied to SF State in the fall of 2008. Good was one of 10 students to be accepted into the program, according to Xochiti Sanchez-Zarama, the program director for Guardian Scholars.
"We have become very strategic in building the sustainability of our program," Good said.
Guardian Scholars, along with other similar programs at CSU, receives funding through various foundations, such as the Stuart Foundation. The funding is then allocated to the programs for student services.
The program at SF State acts as a scholarship program by giving a handful of ambitious students valuable resources like on-campus housing, making it more inclusive.
Other colleges may offer fewer resources but make it available to all former foster youth, according to Jenny Vinopal, the assistant director of foster youth programs for CSU.
Guardian Scholars is part of California College Pathways, a CSU department that acts as a heart of college foster care programs throughout the state.
The program incorporates technical assistance, Web seminars and collaborative meetings around CSU campuses. Before the department's inception, foster children remained a largely invisible community.
Vinopal said the programs help former foster youth gain a sense of empowerment.
"This is not a program built because these students have a sad story," she said.
When children age out of the foster care system the state and their foster families are no longer required to give them assistance.
According to the Pathways annual report 4,000 age out of the foster care system each year, a 44 percent increase since 1998. Of those 20 percent will enter higher education and fewer than 5 percent will attain a degree.
"They have worked very hard. No one is giving them a handout," Vinopal said.
The number of former foster youth participating in campus support programs in California went from 42 in 1998 to 826 in 2008, according to the report.
"I didn't think it was possible for foster youth to be able to go to college because of a lack of support," said Sokhom Mao, 22, a criminal justice major and a member of the Guardian Scholars.
Mao was involved in other foster care community services as a high school student. When he heard about Guardian Scholars, he decided to get involved and is now a spokesman for the program.
Guardian Scholars is a part of the Education Opportunity Program on campus. EOP specializes in providing assistance to low-income and educationally disadvantaged undergraduates.
To apply to the Guardian Scholars, foster youth students must first be accepted into EOP. Students are then required to write an essay explaining why they want to join the program and then go through an interview process.
Mao said it is hard to maneuver through the system without the support and guidance offered with the Guardian Scholar program. Many former foster youth drop out after the first year because they have little access and understanding of student services.
"There is one reason and one reason only why I am here and its because of this program," he said.
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