By Gary Hardie
Of the 400,000 foster youth in the United States, only 3% of them earn a bachelor’s degree; this is alarming when compared to the general population of youth among whom 30% earn bachelor’s degrees. So few go on to obtain degrees because they lack one key ingredient, the opportunity to do so as this usually derives from family support.
Olympic Gold medalist and gymnast, Simone Biles was thrust into foster care when she was three years old. Her mother was raising Simone and her siblings alone while struggling with drug addiction. The future four-time gold medal Olympian and her siblings bounced around several foster homes for years until their grandparents agreed to adopt them. Biles recalls what it felt like to be a foster child.
She says, “Although I was young when the ordeal began, I remember how it felt to be passed off and over-looked. Like nobody knew me or wanted me. Like my talents didn’t count, and my voice didn’t matter.”
But, being adopted by her grandparents opened up a world of opportunity and possibility. She now had a place where she belonged and the things she was passionate about, loved to do and excelled at mattered. These supports allowed her to work hard and earn a chance at representing her country at the Olympics. Biles believes the difference in her success was being given the opportunity to pursue her goals and dreams — her grandparents supported her in this pursuit. She credits them for allowing her to combine talent, hard work and ceasing the opportunity at the right time because they gave her a chance to do so.
“I was blessed with both a gift and the chance to develop it. But many people aren’t so lucky,” says Simone.
Biles calls for a revolution in education where all kids have the same opportunity to succeed and reach their goals and dreams regardless of their background. She is especially advocating for foster youth as she works to make this a reality.
Right now, 52% of foster youth attend some of the lowest-performing schools. Further exacerbating this issue, almost 25% of foster youth struggle with a learning disability. When you add in the trauma that stems from poverty and problems that resulted from and leads to these youths being in foster care, the challenges of attempting to excel in school and sports pile up.
Biles goes on to stay, “If we invest in foster children, they too can have the opportunity to succeed – – which in turn strengthens our communities. And one area of investment that I’m particularly concerned with is college.”
Though she had planned to attend UCLA, Simone ended up beginning training for the Olympics. Later, she studied at University of the People, a non-profit, tuition-free online university, where she has set up a scholarship fund for foster kids. The fund will cover the costs of schooling, including fees related to assessments and applying.
“Our circumstances shouldn’t define us or keep us from our goals, especially if that goal is higher education. I hope that I can help other foster care children realize that goal in the months and years ahead.”
We have to do more to support foster youth in our schools and when they graduate. In many ways, educators take on the role of family for these youths. Future success, obtaining degrees, reaching goals should not be reserved for the kids who have a traditional family. The promise of academic excellence and passion pursuit should extend to all youth, especially the most vulnerable, our foster children.