Daily Spotlight: Ariella’s Story

Growing up, I did not have foster parents encouraging me to pursue higher education. Their overall level of engagement was low: “Just graduate high school.” Few foster youth graduate high school, so getting my high school diploma was all that was really expected of me and my foster parents. I couldn’t even get my foster parents to pick me up from school if the bus was late coming back from a volleyball match, let alone help me purchase knee pad replacements or volleyball jerseys.

My varsity volleyball team was my family. They gave me the structure and stability that the foster care system didn’t. Through developing friendships with teammates, I was exposed to what a more traditional home life looked like. Through them, I was also exposed to AP classes as well as the college admissions process. Applying to college was extremely difficult. I didn’t have the resources that many non-foster youth take for granted. For example, I didn’t have a computer to fill out my applications (luckily, a teacher was able to help me access one), and I didn’t have a way of preparing for the ACT and SAT. I couldn’t afford study books, and prep courses were completely out of the question. I learned that when I asked the county for financial aid to cover a prep course. The person at the county desk gave me a look of complete bewilderment … as if I was the first foster youth to attempt higher education. In fairness, no foster youth I knew or lived with ever went to or graduated from a 4-year or even 2-year college.

College applications aren’t designed with foster youth in mind; the process was beyond challenging. There was one box that acknowledged my existence as a member of a “marginalized population” and a 500-word section for “further information.” I didn’t even know what to write for my “home address.” How could I provide a “home address” when my “home” could change at any minute? I also struggled to explain all the gaps in my education, such as why I randomly went to high school in Georgia for one semester my junior year (a rogue court ruling!), and how doing so resulted in me missing critical AP coursework (in Georgia, the first semester of AP was a replica of California’s second semester of AP coursework, so I effectively took the same classes twice) which in turn led to me scoring lower than I would have liked on my AP and SAT 2 tests.

Now that I’m in college at UC Davis, I’m very aware of the fact that I’m “beating the odds”… that next year, I’ll be part of that 4 percent of foster youth who graduate with a degree. I didn’t do it all on my own though. I had the support of my teammates, my coach and a high school world history teacher who eventually became vice principal. I had to disclose to him that I was in foster care after I missed an important test due to a court date. Ironically, I missed a lot of school so that I could advocate on my own behalf in court and fight for my right to stay at the high school where I was enrolled. When he became vice principal, he helped me navigate experiences unique to foster youth in high school. For example, when I had too many excused absences due to home changes or court appearances, he helped talk to the district to remove the threat of expulsion (I was threatened with expulsion twice!).

I also believe a big part of me “beating the odds” is me. It takes hardcore perseverance and determination to hold your ground in court as a teenager while also trying to proactively figure out solutions to avoid having to change schools… all the while having to keep my grades up to stay on the varsity volleyball team. As a foster youth, I’m used to problem solving. Challenges are my everyday life. But that’s okay. I’m willing to do whatever it takes to get my education.

My next challenge? I do not know how I will afford law school. I’m still trying to figure out how to afford the LSAT prep courses. #FosterMyEducation #FosterTruth

Published on May 2, 2017 as part of Children’s Rights’ “Fostering the Future” campaign. The opinions expressed herein are those of the blog author and do not necessarily represent the views of Children’s Rights or its employees. Children’s Rights has not verified the author’s account.