Our Work Continues: Keeping Students in Foster Care on Track for Educational Success

Road to Success

For over 150 years, The New York Foundling has worked in partnership with our neighbors to ensure that everyone can meet their full potential when facing challenging situations. This hasn’t changed, and our staff continue to provide life-changing and meaningful support in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. This series shares how The Foundling’s many programs are responding to the needs of their community.

At The New York Foundling, we see education as the pathway to independence. All of our programs lay the groundwork for healthy development, wellbeing, and self-determination by teaching critical life and learning skills. Youth in foster care face especially significant challenges in their lives that contribute to notably lower academic performance, from reading and math standardized test scores, to school attendance, to high school graduation rates, to college enrollment and graduation.

The Foundling’s Road to Success program, an innovative long-term, one-on-one tutoring program for youth in foster care with The Foundling, is designed to support young people in foster care in reaching their full academic potential. Road to Success goes above and beyond the expectations of a typical tutoring program by providing true mentorship to students and working closely with families in a coordinated effort to improve academic achievement.

Since March, Road to Success program tutors have worked diligently to ensure students stay on track for educational success and don’t fall behind in the wake of the disruptions and challenges caused by COVID-19.

When COVID-19 hit New York City, all students were asked to shift into remote learning immediately and for the near future. For underserved communities – including young people in foster care – securing access to technology and navigating the new classroom process posed significant challenges. For the young people in our Road to Success program, they had a special support on their side – our Road to Success tutors. “We spent the better part of March and April securing the equipment and resources needed to provide every student with the tools they needed to succeed—and that wasn’t easy,” shares Joni Rivera. As Assistant Vice President of The Foundling’s Educational Services, Joni oversees a number of educational support programs, including Road to Success.

“One of our students, for example, is visually impaired and needed a specialized device and software to be able to do her work,” Joni elaborates. “We hounded her school until they finally got her what she needed. The good news is that with the right technology, staff support, and the student’s perseverance, she’s still slated to graduate high school this summer.”

While the New York Department of Education promised to provide iPads for all the students enrolled in its public schools, not every student in Road to Success received one during the initial distribution—even though the State tried to prioritize children in child welfare. “We had to provide our students with that technology on our own,” Joni explains. “Thankfully, we received generous donations and were able to purchase iPads for the rest of the students who needed them.”

Once students had secured technology access, the tutors of Road to Success were able to get students back on track for educational success. Like many students making the transition to remote learning, our Road to Success participants experienced expected challenges like time management skills and a need for increased digital literacy, but our participants also continued to other challenges unique to youth in foster care.

“Our tutors do a lot of advocacy work on behalf of our students,” Joni explains. Because of COVID-19-related shutdowns—along with a lack of access to scanners and printers—applying for college has been especially difficult for many of the college bound students in the program. Young people in foster care face some of the lowest college enrollment rates in the nation, so enabling our participants to apply to and matriculate into college is one of the most important roles that our Road to Success program has. Some problems with application submissions have been easier to solve than others—such as installing scanner apps on student phones—but compiling the required financial documentation has been very challenging.

“When our students fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and their college applications, they need to prove their ‘non-tax-filer’ status to the school,” Joni explains. “Even within the SUNY and CUNY school systems, there’s no standardized way to do this. Each college campus has their own set of hoops to jump through.” Proving this status is critical to securing financial aid, and to completing every application.

Joni continues, “Pre-COVID, students would get verification documentation from the IRS, but since the outbreak, the IRS’s offices have been closed. You can’t call them. You can’t email them. There’s no way to complete the process online. It took a lot of phone calls from our staff about multiple students, but SUNY and CUNY finally agreed to accept letters from caseworkers as an alternative.”

“I can’t even imagine kids doing this on their own without support,” Joni adds. “It’s been difficult enough as it is for us, and we’re adults who’ve been trained to do this work. It’s just crazy to think about how many students in foster care, who don’t get the kinds of support we provide, must be falling through the cracks right now. Now more than ever, I think it’s really important to highlight the need for educational advocacy and tutoring in the foster care space.”

To learn more about how The New York Foundling is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic in New York, visit our emergency response page. Stay tuned for more stories from the frontlines as we continue to support our neighbors on paths to stability and strength.

Read past posts in the ‘Our Work Continues’ blog series:

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