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Foster Ed expands, needs more volunteers

School starts Monday for the Vail School District, and teachers coming back this year will see...
School starts Monday for the Vail School District, and teachers coming back this year will see a 4 percent increase in salary. (Source: Raycom News Network)
Published: Jul. 31, 2016 at 10:58 PM MST|Updated: Mar. 2, 2018 at 4:16 PM MST
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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - A pilot program that aims to help foster children in Arizona graduate is expanding and needs more volunteers.  Foster Ed, an initiative of The National Center For Youth Law, launched back in January 2014. Pima County was one of three communities in the country chosen to test if the program works.
 
Since then, Foster Ed Arizona has served more than 400 students with about 60 volunteers.
 
The volunteers are called "educational champions," and they advocate for better educational opportunities making sure foster children don't slip through the cracks. "Education champions" advocate for the child and act as the bridge between the child, school, teacher, and foster parent. They basically make sure the child gets the help he or she needs and stays on track to graduate high school.

Right now, there are approximately 14,000 foster children in Arizona that have been removed from their families because they've been abused or neglected.  Nationwide statistics show they don't do well in school. An estimated 75% are likely to perform below grade level, twice as likely to be held back a grade, and half won't earn a high school diploma or GED.
 
The end result? Society ends up paying the expensive price.

According to Foster Ed data, without completing a successful education, an estimated 25% of former foster children become homeless, 25% spend time in jail or prison, 33% receive public assistance, and many more experience unemployment. According to the 2015 Arizona Achievement Gap Report, 12th grade students graduated at the rate of 33%. A total of 18% of Arizona 12th graders d ropped out.
 
Foster Ed officials hope to improve those statistics.
 
Natali Little has been a Foster Ed volunteer since the program's beginning. She has a court order that gives her educational rights to the student she's assigned. She meets with that foster child once a week at his school or the county library for about one hour.
 
"I feel great. I feel that I'm making a difference even if it's a small difference," Little says. "If more people could help and get these children in this program at a younger age, it would impact our classrooms differently, it would impact children's futures."
 
"One of the biggest crisis we have is kids without someone in their corner, not an agency, just a regular person that is there to say I care and I'll help you with school," says Little.

According to the Foster Ed website, "studies have consistently found that students with educational champions have higher GPAs and test scores, better attendance and improved behavior at home and in school."  In May 2016 Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signed a law that sets aside $1.5 million dollars to help FosterEd expand its operations to all of Arizona.
 
Those interested in volunteering and becoming an educational champion with Foster Ed Arizona can complete an application and contact volunteer coordinator Araya Larson at 520-488-2329 or alarson@youthlaw.org for more information.

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