It wasn’t so many years ago that we as counselors, administrators and teachers didn’t even know who our foster-youth students were. Due to confidentiality laws, we weren’t allowed to know, nor to share information with the county Social Services Department.
Thank goodness that has all changed and we now not only know who those students are, but we are working diligently to make sure that they are getting the special attention they need and deserve and are working to offer them tailored services in order to make sure they succeed in high school and beyond.
What began as an idea and then pilot program at Bakersfield High School last year has blossomed into a multi-school project that is exposing foster youth in the Kern High School District to new experiences and opportunities.
As the foster youth counselor at BHS, I joined forces last school year with Ian Anderson, the foster youth service coordinator for the Superintendent of Schools, to come up with the concept for a campus group for foster students. We decided to call the group YES!, which stands for Youth Empowering Success!
Twenty or so BHS students began meeting once a month in order to get to know one another and to discuss goals for their newly formed group. They became excited about the venture and elected officers, talked about their struggles and came up with a list of topics they wanted to cover for the year. They chose a myriad of topics, including college and career planning, scholarship opportunities, budgeting and how to cope with being away from their families.
Guest speakers attended their meetings, arming students with valuable information and resources. The YES! group decided they wanted to meet every week starting this school year. They wanted to expand YES! to other schools in the KHSD and to invite all of the groups to take part in the field trips.
There are currently six comprehensive high schools in the district and the continuation schools with YES! groups. Field trips have included a night at CALM for Holiday Lights just before Christmas break, an afternoon with motivational speaker and former foster youth Josh Shipp, and a conference titled “Breaking Barriers & Empowering Success” at Bakersfield College last month, sponsored by the Superintendent of Schools, Bakersfield College, the Kern County Department of Human Services and the Kern High School District.
Panelists at the conference consisted mainly of foster youth involved in YES! Last year at the first annual conference BHS students manned all of the panels, since they were the only group in existence. This year, however, there were students from BHS, Independence, South and West. Although only 10 students were on the panels, other YES! members attended the break-out sessions and a luncheon/resource fair. More than 125 social workers, educators, CASA volunteers, group home personnel, foster parents, parole officers and others attended the conference in order to hear directly from the kids about what they feel should be changed about the foster care system.
The foster youth who took part said it made them feel important because they were being asked how they felt about being in the system. They said they usually feel like they have no say in anything and said it felt great to actually be asked for their opinions.
Some students from West High told their campus social worker, Maria Lopez, that the BC conference was a life-changing experience for them and has motivated many of them to finish high school and to do the best they can.
YES! groups are planning a field trip to Cal State Bakersfield later this month and an end of the year bowling party.
Funding for these groups is made possible through LCAP, the Local Control Accountability Plan, which in part provides funding for foster youth, students in English Language Learner programs and students who qualify for free and reduced lunch.