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Foster care teens take part in Alabama Reach program

Judah Martin

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Friday, June 28, the students of the Alabama Reach program met with chaperones and their sponsoring UA faculty one final time for the program’s graduation ceremony in Gorgas Library.

Among the freshly starched suits and cardigans of The University of Alabama’s academic staff, more than 40 high school students attended Alabama Reach’s graduation ceremony at the University.

The students comprised a group of foster care and emancipated students determined to defeat the odds that they had faced growing up, by attending college.

“Nationally, less than 5 percent of foster care students graduate college,” said Cynthia Moreland, executive director of the nsoro Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the uplifting of foster care students and a sponsor for Alabama Reach.

Through Alabama Reach, a selected group of high school students in foster care participate in a five–day pre-collegiate summer program that includes college and ACT preparation and workshops, as well as activities like canoeing and laser tag. For the duration of the program, students are assigned a space in a campus dormitory.

For the occasion, a room in Gorgas Library was transformed into a formal dining space. Round tables covered with white table cloths were assembled in the room’s center, with water-filled champagne glasses, silverware and plates of cheesecake placed atop each.

Among the students was Brianna Burton, a rising senior from Opelika, Ala., who sat next to Moreland during the dinner.

“I’ve been in foster care since I was a little girl,” Burton said.

Norma Tyner, Burton’s life coach in the transitional living program at the Lee County Youth Development Center in Opelika, said Burton is a good and motivated student.

“She just has this kind of positive outlook. I really believe she’ll do well,” Tyner said.

With less than a year left before she ages out of the foster care system, Burton has been provided with an apartment by the transitional living program and is being trained to live independently until she finishes high school and must rely solely on her own ability to care of herself.

“I’d been thinking about maybe enrolling at a community college for my first year,” Burton said. “But I’d really like to come here to UA.”

Now that she has participated in Alabama Reach, Burton said her chances of attending college are considerably greater. Moreland said Burton and other foster care students are now eligible to receive scholarships from the nsoro Foundation.

“It’s important that we all come together to form a seamless network that our students can stand on,” Moreland said. “When students grow up in foster care, their immediate needs like food and clothing are met, but their intellectual and inspirational needs often are not.”

Since Alabama Reach is only in its third year, little data exists to track the program’s success.

Lowell Davis, assistant dean of students for the University, said he is optimistic about the students he has encountered.

“I would say I know of at least 10 [Alabama Reach students] who have gone on and matriculated into college,” Davis said.

Moreland said the nsoro Foundation is currently conducting a longitudinal study to gauge the program’s impact. She too is optimistic about the results.

“We have a shift in the attitude,” Moreland said. “Kids who thought they weren’t students or that they weren’t smart are now seeing themselves as college material.”


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Foster care teens take part in Alabama Reach program