Foster youth are often denied access to adequate educational and residential programs that meet their unique needs within a supportive environment. The damaging effects of growing up in foster care without those needs met are staggering: high rates of young parenthood, unemployment, homelessness, inadequate health insurance, reliance on public assistance, severe mental illness and incarceration. Foster youth often emerge as young adults from our “system” without possessing the basic skills to survive. Less than 3% of Foster Youth (below one tenth of the proportion of the general population) benefit from a college education, arguably their best ladder out of challenging childhoods to worthwhile adult lives.
First Star and UCLA created the First Star UCLA Summer Guardian Academy in 2011 as a first significant and scalable step to leveling the educational playing field for the Foster Youth of Los Angeles. This program continues at UCLA in 2013 and has been replicated so far at three other universities nationally: URI, GW and UCONN. The Summer Academy offers a supportive residential educational program, strategically located on a university campus and delivers an excellent chance at college and a major step towards a fulfilling future.
The First Star UCLA Summer Academy model provides a residential environment that includes:
• A comprehensive introductory college immersion program
• A 5 week residential college experience for rising 9th through 12th Grade students, with highly proficient, experienced staff
• 2-4 undergraduate academic course credits
• Encouragement, motivational training, and comprehensive Life Skills instruction.
• A laptop computer, video camera and full instruction in self-advocacy and expression through the safe and proficient use of these technologies.
• A caring adult network, foster “alumni,” and young adult mentorship
• Peer Counselors (2-1 Student – PC ratio) largely drawn from prospering undergraduates who were previously Foster Youth themselves
• Superior individualized attention and services
• Integrated, interdisciplinary UCLA campus programs and resources
• Access to selected campus services
• Top quality, healthful dining options
• Monthly on-campus follow up programs and evaluation to prepare for the following Summer Immersions
• Comprehensive, safe, supervised online group engagement, enablement and assistance.
The First Star UCLA Academy model gives foster youth the opportunity to rewrite the appalling statistics of their cohort and become exemplary citizens. This creates an entirely new avenue where Foster Youth can build happy and productive lives, based upon a competitive secondary education.
The Summer Academy Program is also a major first step toward the goal of establishing parallel year-round, residential facilities comprised of FFA Foster Family units on university campuses for those students who will greatly benefit from a permanent placement over the 4 years of High School.