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Illinois State University Pursues College for Foster Youths

NORMAL, Ill. — Illinois State University is creating a program to help high schoolers in foster care prepare for college.

The university’s First Star Academy, the second one in Illinois, will be funded by $250,000 in grants from the Department of Children and Family Services and a private donor, the Pantagraph reported.

The program will include academic enrichment classes on Saturdays, year-round mentoring and caregiver workshops. Thirty students will also participate in a four-week summer program on campus in June.

“Success is about understanding what students need and providing the resources that can help them succeed,” said Doris Houston, director of the child welfare and adoption studies center in the university’s social work school.

University officials say less than 3 percent of children raised through the foster care system earn a bachelor’s degree.

First Star Academy program director Deneca Avant said people in foster care too often don’t have the support, encouragement and stability they need to finish high school, let alone attend college.

“No one’s told them, ‘Yes, that’s an option for you,’” she said. “They need someone to say, ‘You can do it. Let’s get you on the right path.’”

Avant said applications for the program have been distributed to schools, foster homes and agencies that work with foster children.

She said the Saturday programs will include lessons on life skills and college preparation, including conflict resolution, financial literacy, study skills and career planning. The summer program will focus more on academics to simulate college life.

“We’re excited,” Avant said. “We’re geared up. We’ll definitely make a difference in the lives of these youths and help transform them.”

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