After completing 8th grade, Titochie Figures dropped out of school. For more than a year, his educational future looked bleak, and it was more than likely that he would never earn his high school diploma.
However, in September of 2014, Titochie enrolled at the Magic Johnson Bridgescape Academy in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago. Starting out with zero credits towards graduation, and initially struggling to become acclimated to the school’s culture and learning environment, Titochie finally hit his stride.
With the guidance and encouragement of the MJBA Englewood academic team, Titochie successfully advanced through his course work to the point that on January 12 – Titochie Figures became a high school graduate, and will be joining the Work Training Program at the Chicago Urban League.
On September 8, a new Magic Johnson Bridgescape Academy will open to students in Chicago Brainerd neighborhood (above). This new center will mark the fifth MJBA location in the city, and bring the total number of students earning their high school diplomas in the program to 1,000 students. During the recently completed school year, more than 100 students received their diplomas, and the Chicago-area MJBAs had a graduation rate of 80%.
In addition to the learning centers being readied for the students, the education teams for all five of the Chicago MJBAs participated in a unique professional development initiative earlier this week. They are piloting a program called WhyTry, which utilizes a series of ten visual metaphors to teach social, emotional, and leadership principles. It is a multi-sensory approach designed to build resiliency and relationships.
The program directors, guidance counselors and teachers participated in two days of interactive, high energy and robust training with a really facilitator from the WhyTry organization. In the future, the MJBA staff will serve as the implementation experts for the pilot this year, and serve as the project leaders at each of their individual sites.
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!"