Foster Success summer program looks to boost college outcomes for foster care youth

·5 min read

Razzy Floyd didn’t see herself going to college. No one in her family did. And, she had other things to worry about – like if her mom would still have a job when she came home and when she’d get to eat next.

“I never thought I’d be able to grow up even a semi-normal teenager,” Floyd said. “I thought I’d be a high school dropout, honestly.”

About five years ago, Floyd entered the foster care system. She was placed with a family who helped support her, she said, in ways her birth mother couldn’t. Now 19 years old and a graduate of Brown County High School, Floyd’s preparing to start college in the fall.

Leaving home for college is a big deal for anyone – but for kids like Razzy, who have experienced the foster care system, the transition to college can be particularly challenging. Oftentimes, they may not have the same support system back home – parents outfitting their dorm or someone calling to check in on how classes are going.

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Foster Success tries to fill some of those gaps. The nonprofit works with kids and young adults who’ve been in the foster care system to help them navigate life as they transition out of the system and into adulthood.

This summer, it brought together about a dozen recent high school graduates to the IUPUI campus for their Catalyst Summer Bridge Program, a six-week academic experience for those who have been in foster care to explore college life.

Students meet each day to learn the ins and outs of college, engage in college-level coursework, connect with peers and meet college staff members. The goal, said Tiffany Powell, assistant director of outreach and engagement for education at Foster Success, is to help ease the transition and get students thinking about what’s right for them after high school.

“For us, success looks like students better equipped to make the best decision for themselves with the ultimate hope that they go to college and they finish,” Powell said, “but we know everyone’s journey is going to be different.

'I feel pretty lucky'

While on campus, the students live in the dorms and take courses to learn about critical inquiry, self-reflection, study skills, time management and more. Students who complete the program can earn six college credit hours. They also receive a stipend, a computer and a dorm kit with everything they need to live on campus.

“The college credit is pretty intriguing,” said Aniyah Smith, an 18-year-old graduate from Avon High School. “It seemed like good idea to get a feel for college.”

Smith, who has spent about five years in the foster care system with four of them in homes, said that, after several weeks of the Catalyst Summer Bridge Program, she’s feeling ready for her freshman year at IUPUI. She’s majoring in health science with a minor in business, with plan to work in health care administration.

“I feel pretty lucky,” she said. “We explore campus a lot. We’ve been to places I wouldn’t go if didn’t’ know about it. I’ll have a better understanding of the campus than other incoming freshmen.”

That’s one of the goals of the summer program – give students a leg up on their freshman year with the hope it helps them persist in college. Foster Success has other programs and services, such as education coordinators to check in on students and see how classes are going, to help the kids it serves overcome odds that can seem stacked against them.

Because of their high mobility rates – often moving schools multiple times – kids who have experienced foster care graduate high school in much lower rates than their peers. In 2019, the last year with data not impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the graduation rate for foster care youth was 55.3%. The state average that year was 87.3%.

'I didn’t see myself doing this'

Indiana’s high school graduation rates for foster care youth mirror national trends. According to the National Foster Youth Initiative, only 3% of kids who experience the foster care system graduate from a four-year college.

It’s easy to see why kids like Floyd don’t see college as a viable option for their future. That’s changed, though, for her now. She’s enrolled at Ivy Tech in Columbus for the fall semester and will be living in a nearby apartment complex that houses community college students. She plans to transfer to Ball State to study animation.

Floyd said she’s still nervous to start school, but her concerns sound like any other student heading to college for the first time – she’s nervous about her roommate and living on her own, without the support of her foster family.

They’ll still be part of her life – they’ve all decided to continue her placement even as she goes to college.

“They are very proud and very excited to be able to see me get the chance to do something good with my life,” Floyd said.

Floyd said she’s proud of herself, too.

“I didn’t see myself doing this,” she said. “Now that I am, it’s, like, crazy. It’s kind of surreal.”

Call IndyStar education reporter Arika Herron at 317-201-5620 or email her at Follow her on Twitter: @ArikaHerron.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Summer program looks to boost college outcomes for foster care youth