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First Person: San Diego Foster Youth Heads To College

Photo credit: Voices For Children

Alaysia, left, a foster youth in San Diego is pictured in this undated photo with her Court Appointed Special Advocate, Erin Pavelko.

First Person: San Diego Foster Youth Heads To College


Alaysia, senior, San Pasqual Academy

Erin Pavelko, volunteer Court Appointed Special Advocate


Before all the pomp and circumstance of high school commencement ceremonies in June, a small group of San Diego high school seniors will celebrate another graduation, from foster care.

Voices For Children, a San Diego nonprofit that connects foster youth with volunteer Court Appointed Special Advocates or "CASAs" is hosting the graduation celebration on May 31.

Alaysia, 19, whose last name is withheld to protect her privacy, spent the last four years living and attending high school at San Pasqual Academy, a school and residence in Escondido for foster youth. She is among the less than 50 percent of California foster youth who graduate from high school, according to a 2013 study by the nonprofit Stuart Foundation. Even fewer foster youth go to college.

Alaysia plans to major in political science at San Francisco State University, then she wants to go to law school.

When asked why she thought she achieved so much against the odds, Alaysia, who said she takes her education seriously, gave some credit to her experience in the foster care system.

"I think it was the fact that I was in more foster homes than I was group homes. So I saw what it was like to be in a family, so I learned things from each of those families," Alaysia said. "Then on top of that, I think it was the fact that I had a CASA at such a young age and a committed staff at such a young age that really helped me, because not a lot of CASAs stay that long and not a lot of staff want to be your mentor later on."

Alaysia will continue to receive some benefits through the foster care system while she goes to school, including help paying for college through Voices For Children's Learning to Succeed program. At San Francisco State, another program called Guardian Scholars, will provide year-round housing, educational support and a connection to a social worker.

For this episode of First Person, Alaysia spoke with her CASA, Erin Pavelko, who has mentored her since she was 10 years old, about her hopes and some fears about starting college next month.


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