Clearwater, Fla. – Graduation season is here and for the ninth year in a row, graduation rates in Florida have been on the rise; however, for youth in foster care, it doesn’t always turn out this way. Nationally, fewer than 58% of all foster teens who age out of the system have a high school degree compared to 87% of youth in the general population.
Eckerd Kids is working with the community to help local foster youth, and increase the number of graduations seen amongst foster teens with two specific initiatives – Fostering Education Initiative and Extended Foster Care.
In partnership with the Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties school districts, Eckerd’s Fostering Education Initiative provides school guidance counselors and social workers to Tampa Bay area foster children ages 0 -18 in licensed care. Eckerd’s objective is to ensure that each youth served receives the appropriate educational supports necessary to achieve academic excellence.
Eckerd Kids also works with Camelot Community Care to offer an independent living program through extended foster care. This program assists older teens in the foster care system as they prepare to turn 18, as well as provides assistance to young adults who previously aged out of the foster care system. Services include life skills training, education coordination, support services, job coaching and financial skills training.
Eckerd Kids is happy to share a few success stories below of foster teens who have overcome the unthinkable to get to their graduation days this year.
*Note: All youth are available to share their stories with the media.
MyKeal Conyers is 18 years old and graduated on June 3 from Gibbs High School in St. Petersburg. MyKeal is a single foster teen mom to two young children, ages 1 and 3. She spends her days attending school full time, working part time at her local Dunkin Donuts store and caring for her two children. Sixty percent of teen mothers never graduate from high school, but Mykeal will be the first child in three generations to graduate from her grandfather’s side of the family!
MyKeal will be attending St. Petersburg College to finish her AA and then will continue her education at Florida A & M University in Tallahassee. She plans on majoring in criminal psychology and hopes to go into the air force upon her college graduation.
Nineteen year old Kiana Espino graduated on June 6 from Fivay High School in Hudson. Kiana was removed from her parents as a young teenager and went to live with another relative, where she was not receiving the proper supervision. She was not encouraged to attend school or get good grades so she spent most of her freshman and sophomore years of high school skipping. Going into her junior year, Kiana had a .7 GPA, but since her junior year, Kiana has made up more than 6 classes and raised her GPA up to a 2.3 so she can graduate!
Kelly Davey, Kiana’s counselor said, “In my 18 years of working with students, I have never seen anyone turn themselves around like Kiana has, it is incredible!” Kiana now is excited about her graduation and will be attending Hillsborough Community College in the fall while living in student housing and working. She plans on pursuing a career in the medical industry.
Shamykia Oversteet, 18 years old, graduated on June 7 from Blake High School in Tampa. Shamykia was accepted on the spot into Edward Waters College in Jacksonville at a job fair back in April! Shamykia was removed from her family at the age of 5 and has lived with various relatives and been in multiple foster homes throughout her life. Shamykia and her brother are the first two children out of their family to attend college.
Eddie Harman was left homeless on the streets from birth until the age of 3. Eventually this led to Eddie being removed from his mother and living in more than a dozen foster homes before the age of 4.
Today, Eddie, now 21, just recently graduated from St. Pete College this May and will soon be starting summer school at the University of South Florida where he plans to earn his degrees in history and education to become a teacher.
Eddie currently works part time, and in his spare time enjoys martial arts, working out, learning different languages and playing chess.