The FEGS Academy
Last summer, 19-year-old Yumari was out of ideas. She’d left an abusive foster home, only to suffer more abuse back at her father’s house. And she’d dropped out of school because of the emotional stress and lack of support she’d been feeling for too long.
Yumari decided to look into a GED course at FEGS, a social service program in her South Bronx neighborhood. At first she was doubtful because she’d heard you can’t get to college with just a GED.
Two weeks later, Yumari was enrolled in the FEGS Academy. It’s a program for youth in foster care, and it provides much more than just a GED. The Academy staff know that youth in care are dealing with a lot more challenges than the average teen, and stick with them even after they age out.
A Jump Start on the Future
Young adults leaving care have a hard time finding a steady job and housing. New York City’s recent decision to end its Supervised Independent Living Program, where older youth learned how to live on their own in an apartment with help from social workers, means that many have been forced back into foster homes. (See story on p. 15.) For some, like Yumari, that means living in a place where they don’t feel safe or welcome.
Most housing programs for which youth are eligible require that they have some kind of income when they apply for or enter the program. But jobs are hard to come by. Even for entry-level jobs, young people must often compete with older adults who have more experience and education.
The Academy offers a lot of services, even for those who don’t enroll in the GED program. Besides taking math, English, science, and social studies classes to prepare for the GED exam, Academy students have the chance to complete a job readiness program, including learning how to write resumes and apply for jobs. They have the chance to do internships and shadow people on the job in careers that interest them. They go on college tours and get help preparing academically for college. And they learn how to be smart about money.
The FEGS Academy has partnerships with several foster care agencies so that they can work together to support the students. Since it started in 2007, the program has worked with 400 young people. More than half were not in school when they came to the Academy, and most were not reading well enough to be ready for GED classes. Seventy percent of those youth have made academic improvement or remain in the program. Eighteen percent have completed a GED. Another 21% improved their skills by at least one grade level. Thirty one percent have not improved yet, but are still participating.
Never Turned Away
Yumari has set new goals since coming to the Academy: going to college to study nursing, and maybe acting, too—she wants to keep her options open. She’s already enrolled in GED classes and loves being back in school. “FEGS has shown me I can go further, get good grades, and achieve well enough to go to college,” she says.
“No Eject, No Reject” is the Academy’s philosophy, and that’s what sets it apart from programs that have little tolerance for kids who break the rules or have a lot of absences. If someone leaves the program, he can come back anytime, even after leaving care, because FEGS also runs adult social service programs for jobs, housing, and other needs.
“We don’t turn them away if they don’t meet a standard,” she says.
For kids like Yumari who haven’t received a lot of support or praise, it’s the recognition they get from their staff at the Academy that motivates them.
Finding Their Strengths
“My adviser helped me know how to look in people’s eyes,” says Yumari, who has no problem making eye contact as she smiles and chats about her experience. “He told me to be confident.”
All the positive feedback seems to be working. In spite of her challenges, Yumari is showing up for school every day. After class, she rushes over to her adviser’s office to see if he’s found any new jobs she can apply for, and he gives her tips on job interviewing.
Instead of focusing on things in their lives that young people don’t have control over, says Vaughan, Academy staff get them to see their own strengths.
“At orientation, I tell them, ‘I can guarantee to you that you can be where you want to be if you do five things that are in your control: language, dress, attitude, behavior, and effort. Whatever you do, give it your best effort.’ That opens the door of possibility to them,” says Vaughan.
For more information about the Academy, visit www.fegs.org.