Arizona State University is empowering foster students to invest in their future

Tempe, AZ | Submitted by Lorenzo Chavez

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Arizona State University is dedicated to providing access to higher education for all Arizona students. As part of this commitment, the First Star ASU Academy launched in 2017. First Star, a national organization that works with foster youth, has over 10 Academies throughout the country. At ASU, the focus is to provide education and long-term support for Arizona’s foster youth throughout middle and high school while preparing them for a smooth transition to higher education.

Through intensive college readiness programming, students gain the necessary skills to complete high school, enroll, and ultimately graduate college. In Arizona, only a little more than half of the high school students continue on to postsecondary education after graduation. And that figure is even lower for foster youth. The statewide goal outlined in the Arizona Education Progress Meter is to boost this to 70 percent to ensure more students are getting the education and training they need to be successful in life.

Before they leave the foster care system, the First Star ASU Academy provides options and prepares students to move forward with their education. While many programs aid foster youth, this one is unique in that the Academy targets foster youth earlier in the education pipeline – in middle and high school.

Starting with a summer program, students take part in a three-week camp at ASU’s Polytechnic campus. During a typical summer, they have the opportunity to live and study on campus, which encourages them to envision themselves at college. The camp includes academics, workshops, and introduction to resources that are empowering for foster youth. Field trips round out the experience with visits to the Musical Instrument Museum, Alice Cooper Solid Rock’s Teen Center, and more.

But as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 summer camp went virtual. Working with ASU Prep Digital, the First Star ASU Academy team had already begun engaging with students from a distance. Students were shipped supplies for extracurriculars, along with basic school supplies. Students created COVID-19 time capsules, which ASU collected to store. Alice Cooper Solid Rock’s Teen Center did a song-writing session and other groups organized virtual workshops on everything from poetry to canvas painting and planting seeds.

Working with 50 community partners,  First Star ASU shares critical knowledge and resources to aid in the success of the students. These partnerships have all been adjusted to accommodate ongoing campus closures, but students continue to receive the services they so need. The team helps First Star students navigate the complex path to higher education. After the summer camp, students meet with their First Star advisers at least once per month during the school year. They cover everything from academic performance to FAFSA and college application completions to career exploration.

Monthly workshops help students academically, grow their life skills, and also help them create a network and bridge to future success. The First Star team helps with academics by ensuring they have the tools they need to be successful. They also work on life skills to help students become ready to move on to higher education. Of course, the team also engages with students’ caretakers to ensure they’re getting support at home. These efforts were successfully done virtually, thanks in large part to the relationship with ASU Prep Digital and previous groundwork to employ digital coaching. First Star in partnership with the Arizona Department of Child Safety helped to provide students with hotspots and laptops where they were needed.

In the third year of the program, there are already 40 students participating in ASU’s First Star Academy. Dozens more have expressed interest, and the team has expanded the Academy statewide, with representation from Flagstaff, Maricopa, Casa Grande, and Tucson. Beyond those who participate in the academy for the full program, First Star ASU also offers college readiness events during the academic year for Foster Youth in Arizona that covers everything from completing the FAFSA to accessing college-going resources. They’re also partner with CASA of Maricopa, VOICES for CASA, AZ Dep of Education, and Bridging Success to host annual training for adults on helping youth transition out of foster care, which is a critical time.

Students are more confident and the coaches are able to work with students to identify problems and solutions early. Within the foster youth population, who face instability and a lack of resources, the Academy is already making a positive difference. The program is working so well that ASU Women In Philanthropy recently invested a $100,000 grant to expand services and allow students to enroll in concurrent college courses.

First Star ASU Staff is available to answer any questions from students, caretakers, and supportive adults interested in participating in the program.  To learn more about First Star ASU Academy and view the calendar of special events visit First Star ASU Page or email firststar@asu.edu.

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