COVID-19 has altered the lives of everyone across the country, including thousands of former foster youth who are now students at colleges and universities throughout Florida.
For many of these students at Miami-Dade College and Florida International University, the first thing they did was reach out to either their college coach or a care coordinator at Educate Tomorrow for clarity, comfort and next steps. Educate Tomorrow oversees and directs local, regional and statewide educational initiatives that directly and indirectly serve thousands of students that were once in foster care but are now looking to gain independence through their education.
Many students are hurting because they will not be able to participate in the very thing they have been looking forward to since they started college: graduation. Other students are worried about abruptly switching to virtual classes and the impact it may have on their grades or losing income because they will not be able to work. However, the consensus is that they do not want to feel alone during this time. The importance of staying connected to our students and being a community for them during this season of social distancing cannot be overstated, so we’ve found innovative ways to stay connected to and be of service to our students.
We have taken extra measures to make sure our students know that they are not alone and that we are here to see them through one of the most difficult eras our state and nation have ever seen.
Communicating Through Multiple Channels
Our Care Coordination Team has maintained close contact with students through regular check-ins via phone, text, e-mail, the Educate Tomorrow App and videoconferencing. The team is developing virtual programming to keep students engaged while we remain separated for the foreseeable future, including a virtual resource center. Three days a week, a Zoom Room hosts our virtual resource center that both high school and college students have been utilizing as they continue to look forward to completing school, preparing to start college in the summer, or simply needing a safe space to vent.
“Taking care of our students and families is incredibly important to us,” said Brett McNaught, CEO of Educate Tomorrow. “So we rise to the occasion and will continue to do the work we are dedicated to do — connecting with our students virtually through the Educate Tomorrow app, calling them, or any other safe method possible.”
Miami-Dade College (MDC), Florida International University’s (FIU) Fostering Panther Pride and the AOK Scholars Program have been working with Educate Tomorrow to extend our reach to students.
Virtual Lunch and Learn Sessions
We have conducted virtual Lunch & Learn sessions with students at MDC and FIU. Despite not being able to gather in-person, many students have participated in our new interactive format. So far more than 60 students have joined the virtual sessions.
During the virtual Lunch & Learn sessions, MDC college coaches provide students with COVID-19 updates related to their college or university. Students also receive updates about resources around campus and in the community. We now have on-line interactive life skills training sessions, including a personal fitness class, meal prep, and budgeting.
Building Emotional Support
Most importantly, we allow students the space and opportunity to tell us how we can best serve them during this time. When a recent Lunch & Learn ended, students remained online and fellowshipped with and comforted one another. Our partners at the Lawrence E. White Family Foundation (AOK Scholars Program), and FIU’s Fostering Panther Pride joined a recent virtual Lunch & Learn.
Accessing Financial Supports and Emergency Aid
Several current and recent Educate Tomorrow students are actively involved in leading the services we provide. For instance, one MDC student (and Educate Tomorrow Opportunity Coordinator) has taken charge of the effort to inform her peers about scholarships, affordable housing programs, local food pantries, and benefits that are part of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. Students are encouraged to take the initiative to pursue existing and newly-established benefits.
Empowering Students for Success
“It is important that students feel empowered during this time,” said Varzi Jean Baptiste, the Educate Tomorrow – AOK Scholars Care Coordinator. “We want to assure them that despite the uncertainty, they are supported. We also want to make sure that they have the tools and resources they need to make any necessary adjustments and to continue on their path toward their postsecondary credentials.” Funding for emergency and basic needs is available to youth and families during this crisis through funding from the AOK Scholars Program and The Children’s Trust.
And finally, through the statewide Department of Children and Families Positive Pathways Program, which Educate Tomorrow oversees, we will disseminate information about these innovative changes to colleges, universities, and local college access networks throughout the state.
For more information about Educate Tomorrow’s programs, visit www.EducateTomorrow.org, or call (305) 374-3751. For information on Positive Pathways, which is funded by the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF), visit www.PositivePathwaysFlorida.org.