Foster Kids Find Success At Philly Charter School


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In Philadelphia on Tuesday, 10 students will graduate from the nation's only charter high school designed specifically to serve children in foster care. All of this year's graduates at Arise Academy will go on to college.


High school graduation is a certainty for some students - and a long shot for others. For 10 Philadelphia students graduating from high school tonight, the event was far from guaranteed. From member station WHYY in Philadelphia, Elizabeth Fiedler reports.

ELIZABETH FIEDLER: The students at graduation rehearsal are going through the same steps as seniors at other schools. One by one, members of the first graduating class of Arise Academy practice walking slowly in a line.

Unidentified Man: Look at the person in front of you. Try to stay in step with the person in front of you. Arms by your side, please.

FIEDLER: Standing in front of a row of folding chairs, they look like any other group of graduates. Some of the girls have clearly spent a lot of time fine-tuning their outfits and hair. Triheed Walker is one of 140 students at Arise, the nation's only charter high school designed specifically to serve children in foster care.

Mr. TRIHEED WALKER (Senior, Arise Academy): Ever since I was little, I've been in and out of shelters and in out of schools, truancy and all that. And that was another reason why my grades were so bad, because I barely was in school, because we kept moving from place to place.

FIEDLER: Walker credits Arise with helping turn his life around and putting him on track to go to college, something he once had no intention of doing.

Class valedictorian Dianne Pough says Arise is very different from other schools.

Ms. DIANNE POUGH (Valedictorian, Arise Academy): A lot of my other friends thought that mentioning that they were in foster care to their other friends was a big deal, because a lot of kids would treat them differently, and a lot of people would think that foster - it's like a stereotype - that foster kids are bad, crazy, they're poor.

FIEDLER: Arise solves one other problem for Philadelphia foster kids, too. In the past, as students have changed foster homes, they've often changed schools. Not so at Arise Academy. Students can continue to go to school here, even if they change home placements. That's critical because moving around to different schools can make it tough for foster kids to succeed academically.

Arise Academy is funded by the school district of Philadelphia. The school has also received private donations and other money from the federal government. Diane Pew says this school really is tailored to helping its students.

Ms. POUGH: It's more flexibility, more attentiveness from teachers, and you get more one-on-one time. And a lot of people just are truly here to help you. And the learning here is good, especially if you're at a different level. Because people who go through foster care may not be on the same level as the next person.

FIEDLER: Pough says the school's employees work with students to fill in the gaps in their education.

Ms. JACKIE MOSCOVICI (Guidance counselor, Arise Academy): It's like I have 10 of my own children.

FIEDLER: Guidance counselor Jackie Moscovici has helped the Arise graduates get to this point.

Ms. MOSCOVICI: I do every grant, scholarship, any type of financial aid, all college applications, college admissions, college searches, major searches. So everything that a parent may do, I have to do it in my position. So it's really -it's taking the guidance counselor position, and being a guidance counselor and a parent and a mentor and a friend.

FIEDLER: The audience at tonight's graduation will reflect the complex web that surrounds the graduates. There'll be cheering school employees. And class valedictorian Dianne Pough says a lot of people who have encouraged her over the years will be at her graduation. Even her therapist wants to come. Triheed Walker expects a full crowd, including his mom, aunt, sisters and foster mom -all there to watch him cross the stage.

For NPR News, I'm Elizabeth Fiedler in Philadelphia.

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