21, No. 1
Too Many Schools: Moving Every Year Makes It Hard to Graduate
I was tired. This would be my fourth high school in four years. I'd already moved twice the previous year, which meant having to go to two different schools during my junior year.
The principal didn't make it easy. She looked over my transcripts, and decided that I should be placed in the 11th grade again. My heart sank as tears welled up in my eyes and the walls of my esophagus got tighter, making it impossible for me to swallow. There was no way in the world I was going to repeat 11th grade.
I began to cry right then and there as I pleaded for her not to do that. I told her I'd been in foster care since birth and moved around a lot. I also told her that my medical condition had put me in the hospital and forced me to miss weeks of school several times over the past two years.
The last time I got really sick, I hadn't received home instruction from the school for almost two months. I don't think my agency acted quickly enough to get my schoolwork to me, and since I'd recently transferred, the school didn't know me and hadn't made much effort to get things going. All of that had messed up my credits....
What I went through is common to a lot of teens in foster care who move around a lot. I decided to ask the other teens in my house if being in foster care has caused them problems in school. They all said yes. One of them wrote me this note:
"I am 16 and I belong in the 11th grade, but I am in the 9th grade with one or two credits. It's almost the end of the school year and I don't think I'm going to make it to the next grade by the fall. What do you think I should do?"
Then there's my brother. He comes home every day shouting, "I'm not going back to school!" and threatening to drop out. He's 19 and still in high school because his credits also got messed up with all the moving around, and they held him back a year. I guess sometimes dropping out seems like the easier route for him because he doesn't have a support system to fall back on.
But even though we're all struggling, we really do push ourselves. . . . The foster care system should do more to help kids in care graduate. I also think teachers should reach out to new students. When you're new, you can't form that student-teacher bond like someone who's attended the school since their freshman year. If teachers could have one-on-one talks with new students, they could build trust and good relationships.
But I believe the students themselves should play a strong role also. One thing I've learned is that I have to be an advocate for myself. My social workers and the other adults in my life haven't really pushed the school officials, so I've started taking initiative by asking more questions at school and asking for help again and again.
It's good if you already have supportive adults tackling these obstacles with you, but if you don't, it's important to let others know what you need. Having even one teacher or other staff member by your side can make a big difference. I wish I'd known that sooner.
Reprinted from Represent magazine with permission, copyright 2009 by Youth Communication/New York Center, Inc.