All of the children will be entering into 9, 10, or 11th grade, and 18 are returning from last summer’s inaugural Academy, which was the first in Rhode Island and only the second in the country.
Living on campus, they will take credit-bearing courses, engage in life skills sessions, focus on study and learning skills and how to succeed in high school, learn about nutrition and eat at Hope Commons, and go swimming, on field trips, take yoga and much more. URI students serve as their mentors and guides.
Administrative Director Merry Caswell, who was a middle school principal for 35 years, said the First Star Academy offers this diverse group of students an opportunity to have a college experience.
“I’m hoping the kids really start to learn what it takes to get to college and understand what college is all about,” Caswell said.
Each day will start with a word of the day and even those words will revolve around college, explaining everything from what a credit is to why they are needed to graduate. The program is designed to have the foster youth return each summer while they are in high school in the hope that they overcome odds showing that only 3 percent of America’s foster youth earn four-year degrees compared to 30 percent of the general population.
Data compiled by First Star confirms the grim consequences of the collective failure to adequately prepare foster youth who age out of the system without being adopted. In addition to the low percentage of foster youth earning four-year degrees: less than half of former foster youth are employed by age 24; 24 percent of former foster youth will experience homelessness; and they will deal with the growing problem of identity theft, which many don’t discover until they leave foster care and apply for a loan or for housing.
This summer’s theme is identity, as the students will be learning more about each other and about themselves. Each student will have a choice of an enrichment course, collectively called Deep Positivity. The options are: photography, creating a rap, culinary lessons, or art. These choices will allow them to work with: a rapper to write together; a chef to prepare meals for themselves; an art therapist to create masks from clay; and a noted photographer to learn the basics of the art.
The calendar of activities for the students is packed but here are a few highlights:
• Media Education with lessons in film, videography, social media, and computer literacy led by representatives from URI’s Harrington School of Communication and Media;
• Cultural Competency sessions will help the students understand different cultures, backgrounds, races, and religions;
• Generation On will have the children participating in community service projects focusing on hunger and education.
A culmination ceremony will be Aug. 1 at the URI Memorial Union Ballroom. Students will work with a mentor throughout the year until they return to campus the following summer. The consistent contact and guidance will continue until they exit the foster care system and head to college at the age of 18.
The First Star URI Academy is made possible with generous funding by Hasbro. The Academy also partners with URI, Adoption Rhode Island, IDentityTheft911, CVS Caremark, First Star, and The Providence Journal.