Updated: Jan 30
by: Ms. Georgina, Education Coordinator
I want to increase awareness of the school related issues that foster children face when they attend public schools. Educating the public will hopefully spark some compassion for what we do at Sunny Crest Youth Ranch. The challenges our boys face academically and behav- iorally each day when they attend school can easily be ignored and pushed aside, but we are working together to make sure our boys don’t slip through the cracks. Lakewood and Ionia Public Schools are facing these challenges head on and implementing strategies to help the boys be more successful while in school.
In the State of Michigan, there are over 13,000 children in foster care. The average time a child stays in foster care is 1 1⁄2 years. There is a 40% chance within the first year of reunification. The big- gest percentage of children in foster care are the ages of 1-5 (33% ) & 16-18 (19%). We currently have 46% ages 16-18 living on the ranch. 47% of foster care kids in the SOM are Caucasian and 33% African American, we have 54% Caucasian boys and 39% African American boys residing on the ranch.
Foster care children perform lower in academics and have more behavior problems throughout the day while attending schools. Why is that? Children taken from their homes and placed in strange homes, with strange people, and introduced to a new school again, can be a contributing factor to the great anxiety our boys face each day. I hear over and over, school is the last place they want to be. Kids just want to go back home. New home and school is not their norm. When they are sitting in class each day, they are thinking about home and how to get back there.
Why are kids displaced from their home? Reasons vary from physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, medical neglect, and incarceration of a parent, abandonment and truancy, death of a parent, voluntary placement, juvenile offender or runaway. We experience these reason why boys land on the ranch. Each of them have unique stories and need unconditional support and care while living on the ranch.
The biggest challenges I have faced when boys arrive at SCYR is the lack of educational back- ground information that is provided when the boys arrive. It can take weeks to piece together a clear academic story as they have been displaced many times and moved from district to district. This makes it difficult to place them in the appropriate classes or school.
While in school, we have experienced many disruptions. Their traumatic past experiences, emo- tional turmoil, new home, new rules, new school & teachers, new medication, can cause anxieties and emotions that get in the way of their day-to-day aca- demic success.
Adjusting to new structures and rules can trigger negative behaviors. Providing the district some basic information about their past has been helpful. We do our best to make sure our boys build healthy relationships with the teachers and administrators of the schools they attend. This is sometimes a challenge because of the lack of trust and understanding that folks have for children placed in foster care. Kids in foster care hate the label that comes with it. Being a “Ranch Boy” is what this community sometime labels our boys and they find it very offensive & unfair. For the most part, it is not their fault that they were put into this situation and should not be labeled.
Teachers have more responsibilities, addi- tional paper work, and testing, more time preparing modified assignments, and sometimes feel over- whelmed. We strive to work collaboratively to make sure our boys can pass classes and earn credits. We have found that the reading levels and basic math skills are lower that the average student. Boys come to the ranch lacking basic fundamentals that can be challenging for everyone. This is a daily challenge for our boys each day when they attend school. We are working together with the local public schools to make sure our boys don’t fail. Disturbing facts state that 55% of children in foster care drop out of high school and only 6% of them attend college. We en- courage our boys to do the best they can do each day and follow the school rules. We hope that our boys will take the opportunity to go college.