If her family life had collapsed in another state, Makkedah Cutshall might still be in foster care. Rent, utility payments and grocery bills wouldn’t yet be causing her anxiety. “That would be real helpful,” said Cutshall, who aged out of foster care last year at 18. “I’d maybe have a chance to save.”
She has been working with advocates to urge passage of a bill to extend foster-care programs in Ohio to age 21, a change that would offer three more years of assistance to some of the state’s most vulnerable youths. Supporters had hoped that the bill, which also includes “bill of rights” provisions for wards in guardianship cases, would be approved along with the biennial budget. Now, they’re aiming for action yet this year.
“What’s sad, or perhaps moving, is how many foster teens who have aged out are active in this campaign,” said Mark Mecum, executive director of the Ohio Association of Child Caring Agencies.
"It’s frustrating to get emails from children who ask, 'Has this passed yet? How can I help?'"
Between 1,000 and 1,300 foster youths leave Ohio’s system each year after they turn 18. Staggering numbers of them soon experience homelessness, or become parents, or fall into the justice system.
About 26 states, along with Washington, D.C., already have extended foster care to 21 or are in the process of passing legislation to do so, Mecum said.
The 2016 startup cost for an extended foster-care program would mean about $550,000 in state money next year, then up to $9.7 million in 2017, depending on whether the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services has it fully or partly implemented by then. Up to $14.8 million in federal foster-care money also would be budgeted for the program in 2017, for a total of about $24.5 million in state and federal funds that year.
Cutshall, now 19, is just trying to figure out how she can get far enough ahead to thrive. She shares a tidy, spare Reynoldsburg apartment with a roommate and dreams of having a car someday. For now, she rides her bicycle to the bus stop and then faces a two-hour bus trip (including transfers) to her minimum-wage job on the North Side.
“I’m trying not to let myself get down,” she said. “But I would still be with my foster mom if I could.”
The Magic Johnson Bridgescape Academy in Bridgeton, New Jersey presented diplomas to its graduating seniors last Thursday evening, concluding the graduation season for EdisonLearning’s partnership schools. More than 340 students have received their high school diplomas this year from Magic Johnson Bridgescape Academies in five states – with the total number of graduates from all partnership schools exceeding 600.
Elijah Thompson (second from left in photo) was recognized with the High Honors award for earning the highest GPA in the senior class. Elijah has a unique talent for writing, and is a published author for his poetry which can be found in the Patterson Literacy Review, titled, “I want to be just Like You.” As he has stated, “The only challenge we ever face is the challenge of believing in ourselves.” Elijah now is a believer that he can accomplish his goals, he just has to find the correct path to follow. Elijah plans to attend Cumberland County College in the fall to study Philosophy and Religion.
Josiah and Lillie Nelson belted a chorus of hallelujahs Tuesday as their granddaughter, Shylah Russell, walked across the graduation stage. They have raised Russell since she was 4 years old, after her mother died. The death had a lasting impact, Lillie Nelson said. She watched Russell struggle to pass the state exams. At Booker T. Washington High, the load was overwhelming, and Russell stopped going.
But on Tuesday, the 19-year-old earned her diploma with the other 15 members of the inaugural graduating class at Norfolk Public Schools Open Campus. The division launched the program this school year for 125 students who had dropped out or fallen behind. "I've been to a lot of graduations, but this one was very emotional and heartfelt," Nelson said. Russell wants to attend Tidewater Community College and become a nurse.
School leaders say the program is the first of its kind in the state. The division has partnered with Magic Johnson Bridgescape and EdisonLearning, which run similar programs throughout the country. The students face a host of challenges. Some are teenage parents; others are homeless or struggle academically. It's possible for them to get a GED, but at Open Campus, they earn a diploma.
Its students take only self-paced, computer-based courses needed to graduate. They also must pass state Standards of Learning exams.
Students attend classes daily at the building near Widgeon and Sewells Point roads, but they earn diplomas from their assigned high schools.
Math teacher Wes Flanagan said the scheduling provides flexibility to focus on academic weaknesses and allows for more teacher-student interaction than in a traditional classroom. Flanagan said the graduation helps dispel myths that dropouts aren't smart or motivated. Some of them have socioeconomic challenges that make a traditional classroom experience difficult, he said.
Daun Hester, the local Open Campus director who's also a state delegate representing Norfolk, handed out diplomas and hugs. She praised the students' hard work and thanked the parents for their support.
L'Tanya Simmons, a division leader who spearheaded the project, told the graduates they have inspired other students by not giving up. "In spite of all the odds and all the doubts, you're graduating," she said. "Receiving a high school diploma is only the beginning of college and career success."
Simmons said staff members worked quickly to open the program within a few weeks of the beginning of the school year. They had to renovate a former school building, hire teachers and install new technology. Now, leaders hope to expand the program.
In her commencement address, salutatorian Claris Turner fought tears while thanking supporters, including her teachers. "They told me I have potential," she said.
Turner said that the program was the best opportunity for her and that she's happy to make her family proud. "This will forever be a memory that I will tell my baby boy. Success is the key," she said. "Ma, I made it!"
DURHAM - Donovan Livingston, an academic adviser with the Upward Bound program at UNC-Chapel Hill, urged gradates of the Performance Learning Center and the Magic Johnson Bridgescape Academy Tuesday to take time to appreciate the “baby steps” that they make.
Livingston, a Fayetteville native and UNC alum, was the guest speaker for the joint commencement exercises for the two alternative school programs housed at the Durham Performance Learning Center.
He shared with the audience that he is nearsighted in one eye and farsighted in the other and told graduates that they much approach life from a nearsighted and a farsighted perspective.
“If we only choose to focus on the big picture, we will live our lives in a perpetual state of disappointment because what we want is so very far away,” Livingston said, touting an advantage of the nearsighted view. “Instead, take the time to see the beauty in your baby steps.” He added, however, that the farsighted view also has its advantages.
“Farsighted people have the unique ability to avoid peripheral distractions and keep their sights set on much larger purposes,” Livingston said. “As you mature, your nearsightedness and farsightedness become less about how you see the world and more about how you see yourself.”
Before his speech, Livingston asked graduates to turn and to look at someone in the audience who helped them make it to graduation. “Your accomplishment is not yours alone,” Livingstone said. “You succeeded because of your own efforts and those who saw something in you that made them invest their time, their money, their energy, effort and enthusiasm in you.”
In all, 51 students received their high school diplomas during the morning ceremony at the Holton Career and Resource Center attended by more than 200 people. Twenty-two of the graduates were enrolled in the MJBA program and the remaining 29 in PLC.
Friends and family cheered the graduates, many of who had overcome challenging obstacles to earn their diplomas. Each graduate crossed the stage holding the hand of someone who was instrumental in their pursuit of a high school diploma.
After the ceremony, family, friends and graduates mingled outside the school where they took pictures, exchanged hugs and made post-graduation plans.
Timon Kirby, 20, a graduate of the Bridgescape Academy, said graduation day was a longtime coming. “It feels good,” Kirby said. “I can’t wait to see what’s next for me.” He said his immediate plan is to attend Durham Tech to study math.
Durham Public Schools Board of Education Chairwoman Heidi Carter was beaming with pride after the graduation ceremony. “This graduation is a demonstration of what a fallacy the letter grading system is,” Carter said. “This is why you can’t connect a letter grade with the actual performance and quality of the school.”