Razzy Floyd couldn’t see himself going to college. No one in his family did. And, she had other things to worry about – like if her mother would still have a job when she got home and when she could eat afterwards.
“I never thought I would be able to grow even as a semi-normal teenager,” Floyd said. “I thought I would be a high school dropout, honestly.”
About five years ago, Floyd entered the foster care system. She was placed with a family that helped support her, she said, in ways that her birth mother could not. Now 19 and a graduate of Brown County High School, Floyd is preparing to start college in the fall.
Leaving home for college is a big deal for anyone — but for kids like Razzy, who have experienced the foster care system, the transition to college can be especially difficult. Often, they may not have the same support system at home — parents outfitting their dorm or someone calling to check on how class is going.
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Foster Success tries to fill in some of these gaps. The nonprofit organization works with children and young adults who have been placed in the foster care system to help them navigate life as they transition out of the system and into adulthood.
This summer, he brought a dozen recent high school graduates to the IUPUI campus for their Catalyst Summer Bridge program, a six-week academic experience for those who have been in homestay to explore college life.
Students meet daily to learn the ins and outs of college, take college-level courses, connect with peers, and meet college staff. The goal, said Tiffany Powell, assistant director of educational outreach and engagement at Foster Success, is to ease the transition and get students thinking about what’s right for them after high school.
“To us, success looks like students better equipped to make the best decision for themselves with the ultimate hope that they’ll go to college and finish,” Powell said, “but we know that Everyone’s journey will be different.
“I feel pretty lucky”
While on campus, students live in the dorms and take classes to learn about critical inquiry, self-reflection, study skills, time management, and more. Students who complete the program can earn six college credit hours. They also receive a stipend, a computer, and a dormitory kit with everything they need to live on campus.
“The college credit is pretty intriguing,” said Aniyah Smith, an 18-year-old Avon High School graduate. “It seemed like a good idea to get a feel for college.”
Smith, who spent about five years in the foster care system including four in residential care, said after several weeks of the Catalyst Summer Bridge program, she feels ready for her first year at IUPUI. She is majoring in health sciences with a minor in business, with plans to work in health care administration.
“I feel pretty lucky,” she said. “We explore the campus a lot. We went to places I wouldn’t go if I didn’t know. I will have a better understanding of the campus than other freshmen.
That’s one of the goals of the summer program — to give students a head start on their freshman year with the hope that it will help them persevere in college. Foster Success has other programs and services, such as education coordinators to check on students and see how classes are going, to help the children it serves overcome obstacles that may seem stacked against them.
Due to their high rate of mobility – often changing schools multiple times – children who have experienced foster care graduate from high school at far lower rates than their peers. . In 2019, the last year the data was unaffected by the COVID-19 pandemic, the homestay youth graduation rate was 55.3%. The state average that year was 87.3%.
“I couldn’t see myself doing that”
Indiana’s high school graduation rates for foster youth reflect national trends. According to the National Foster Youth Initiative, only 3% of children who experience the foster care system graduate from a four-year college.
It’s easy to see why kids like Floyd don’t see college as a viable option for their future. That has changed, however, for her now. She is enrolled at Ivy Tech in Columbus for the fall semester and will be living in a nearby apartment complex that houses community college students. She plans to transfer to Ball State to study animation.
Floyd said she was always nervous about starting school, but her concerns are like those of any other student entering college for the first time — she’s nervous about her roommate and lives alone, without the support of her host family.
They will always be a part of her life – they have all decided to continue her placement even as she goes to college.
“They are very proud and very excited to be able to see me have the chance to do something good with my life,” Floyd said.
Floyd said she was proud of herself too.
“I couldn’t see myself doing that,” she said. “Now that I am, it’s kind of crazy. It’s kind of surreal.