The First Star Academies

 

There are over 430,000 foster youth in the United States. Every year, 28,000 foster youth age out of the system unprepared for adulthood. Statistically, outcomes for youth leaving the foster care system are characterized by low academic achievement, chronic unemployment, homelessness and incarceration. These painfully poor outcomes are almost guaranteed by widespread home and school instability, and the resulting revolving door of inconsistent adults who are not invested in the youths’ futures. First Star believes that higher education is one of the best ladders out of this appalling situation.

A national public charity, First Star has worked since 1999 for America’s abused and neglected children by strengthening their rights, illuminating systemic failures, igniting necessary reforms, and now pioneering support programs to launch foster children into productive lives and careers through higher education. In 2011, First Star Academies were created to keep youth on track for high school graduation and prepare them for higher education and adulthood. First Star abundantly demonstrates that foster youth have the ability to change their lives from abuse and neglect, to academic achievement and self-sufficiency. Nationally, only half of foster youth graduate high school, but 98% of foster youth who complete First Star Academy programming do so and 87% go on to higher education.

First Star partners with universities and child welfare agencies throughout the country to improve the lives of foster youth through innovative college-preparatory programs. The First Star Academies are the country’s only long-term college-prep programs for high school foster youth that include both four immersive residential summers on a university campus and monthly sessions during each school year. The Academies provide specialized programming that addresses the academics, life skills and necessary adult supports unique to students in foster care. Students are given an immersion into campus life, living in campus residence halls and attending daily academic classes. The program includes field trips to local businesses, cultural destinations and social activities. Experienced instructors teach students grade specific content and provide remedial supports as needed. We ensure that the youth are competitive for college admissions by preparing them for the SAT/ACT. Academy staff reviews youths’ school records, monitors their
progress to keep students on track for high school graduation, and identifies and secures resources necessary for success in school.

Foster youth often lack the skills needed to successfully transition into adulthood. The Academy provides life skills workshops that focus on topics such as budgeting & financial management, identity theft, employment, housing, hygiene, healthy relationships, and substance abuse. Staff work to ensure that youth are in nurturing foster homes and are on track for adoption, legal  guardianship or other permanency solutions. Within the Academy itself, First Star provides youth with 4+ years of a network of caring adult professionals; a group of adult mentors who are former foster youth; and a cohort of fellow foster youth in order to establish social supports and generate a sense of belonging among a surrogate “family.”

The First Star Academy program, which was first piloted at UCLA in 2011, now thrives on eleven other university campuses across the country, including University of Connecticut, Arizona State University, Rutgers University Camden, Loyola University Chicago, University of Utah, and the University of Miami. The Academy model has spread internationally. In 2017, a separate organization, First Star UK, was formed to operate the First Star Academy at St. Mary’s University, Twickenham in London.

Across all of our Academies, there is consistent and profound change amongst our students. Foster youth who complete Academy programming believe that higher education is a realistic option for them. The First Star Academies show foster youth they belong on a university campus and give them the tools to get there. The Academies are breaking down silos between child welfare agencies and school districts, helping them identify and implement effective strategies for improving the education outcomes of foster youth. The success of Academy youth has reversed stereotypes about foster youth and helped start a national dialogue among universities about promoting college access for foster youth. To find out more about how you can help First Star continue to transform the lives of foster youth across the country, visit: https://www.firststar.org/donate/