Charlotte, N.C., April 5– Johnson C. Smith University hosted the 3rd Annual Phasing Up to Higher Education Conference to discuss Best Practices in Higher Education Supports for Youth Aging Out of Foster Care. Dr. Ronald L. Carter gave the welcome to an audience of higher education professionals, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools guidance counselors, Department of Social Services Youth and Family Services Division case workers, students and faculty.
The conference began with an overview of the nationally-recognized Phasing Up to New Possibilities Program. The program seeks to support former foster youth as they matriculate through the university. Dr. Helen Caldwell, Dean of the College of Professional Studies and Chair of the Council of Deans and Patricia Newell, the program’s director shared with the audience the JCSU ingredients for a successful support model.
This systemic approach, championed by the university’s president, Dr. Ronald L. Carter receives direct support from the senior leadership team, which includes: the Office of the President, the College of Professional Studies, the Office of Enrollment Management & Student Engagement, Vice President of Business & Finance, Office of Student Support Services, the Office of Financial Aid, the Department of Social Work, Academic Center for Excellence, the Office of Institutional Advancement, the Counseling & Testing Center, and the Center for Career and Professional Development. Newell used a powerful visual illustration as she asked each of the members of the team to come forward to demonstrate that the program is woven through the fabric of the entire university.
“It takes this level of support to ensure the sustainability of a program for former foster youth to graduate from college, but embedded within the JCSU model is the belief that the college experience is about more than attaining the degree for these young people, but also about holistically a successful transition into adulthood,” Newell said.
The highlight of the conference was when former foster youth shared their college experiences during a Q&A session. Students from JCSU who are successfully navigating the rigor of the higher education landscape, along with students from Savannah State University and Wake Tech Community College shared their some of their challenges and triumphs with the audience.
Michelle Blackmon, Program Coordinator for Fostering Bright Futures also of Wake Tech Community College shared a best practice model for creating higher education access for youth from foster care. The student panel echoed one of the keynote speaker’s main points: former foster youth who have attended college suggested that case workers need to encourage foster youth on their caseloads to continue their education post-high school.
Students were especially excited about a book signing conducted by former foster youth Karma Banks, who is also a member of the National Foster Care Alumni Association.
The conference keynote, Michael Sanders brought statistics to light with a visual demonstration of why foster youth don’t attend college. He highlighted research from the Ohio State University’s 2015 Foster Youth and Alumni of Color National Study when he shared with the audience that “if everyone that was connected to a foster youth would say these five simple words, ‘you should go to college,’ the rate of college attendance would increase dramatically!”
“If everyone that was connected to a foster youth would say these five simple words, ‘you should go to college,’ the rate of college attendance would increase dramatically!”– Michael Saunders, Phasing Up to Higher Education Annual Conference
Another highlight of the day was the presentation by Sonia Jenkins, McKinney-Vento Specialist of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, who shared that students who are receiving homeless assistance while in high school have resources available to them to help them with college attendance. So the partnership between Johnson C. Smith University and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in supporting this population is creating greater college access for Charlotte’s homeless youth.
The conference received support from the Smith Institute for Applied Research under the leadership of Dr. Diane Bowles.
Update: the Phasing Up Program has been featured on CharlotteFive.