Eighteen of Delaware’s foster youth were honored in a ceremony Monday night for persisting in the face of multiple problems to graduate from high school and college, often exhibiting excellent work in school.
UGrad Education Program, which started in 2018, has served 400 foster children throughout the state. The program is provided by Kind to Kids Foundation, which was founded in 2011 and has served 18,000 Delaware children in need.
The UGrad program pairs struggling students with advocates who help the students evaluate their needs and communicates with teachers and schools to support the students and help them complete the work they need to graduate.
Shay Drummond credits it with her success in college.
“It helped me transition smoothly from high school to college, and the program bridged gaps that I wouldn’t be able to handle,” she said. She recently earned a bachelors in legal studies from Widener University.
This year, UGrad served 60 students, and will expand to 75 by September, with a waitlist of several others who want to join. Students are recommended for the program by their schools, social workers and advisors.
Only 10 workers and three tutors are employed by UGrad, which receives federal, state and private funding to make up its operating budget of $1.2 million.
The tutors are school teachers who are hired by UGrad. They typically have hour-long sessions on the weekends, one-on-one with students, to help with different academic subjects. They often will check in during the week and offer an additional session during periods of heavy work loads.
“If it’s an emergency session, like someone has to have help with a term paper being due, we may extend it for a couple hours or whatever we need,” said Caroline Jones, president and founder of the Kind to Kids Foundation.
The foundation focuses on the needs of children and teens in foster care, often victims of child abuse and neglect, who are deeply affected by the trauma in their lives.
It’s best known for its “My Blue Duffle” program. It gives foster children a bag filled with books, a blanket, toiletries and more so they have something other than a pillowcase or garbage bag in which to carry their belongings. The foundation sponsored events at which hundreds of people would volunteer to make fleece blankets and stuff the bags.
Monday’s celebration featured teens in foster care who are graduating from high school, foster youth who are completing their college education and children in foster care who are succeeding in elementary, middle and high school.
The UGrad Education Program has achieved a 100% graduation rate the past four years.
UGrad also has a 100% grade succession rate, meaning all students are advancing to the next grade on time.
Nationally, only 56% of foster youth graduate high school, Jones pointed out.
In Delaware, 53% of Delaware children in foster care graduate from high school, Jones said.
While teenagers age out of foster care at the age of 18 and transition into the state’s adult independent living program with limited support. UGrad will follow its students through college, if the students desire.
For example, it recently hired a tutor to help one of its students master a technical class.
Genesis Devone, a 2023 graduate of Newark High School, loves that the UGrad workers are supportive, involved and always providing positive reinforcement to foster students.
“I appreciate the bonds [they] create with your mentees and how they are constantly checking in,” she said. Devone hopes to have a career in interior design.
UGrad’s one-on-one tutoring sessions, school supplies and just the devoted attention of workers helped Caesar Rodney High 2023 graduate Teyani Peacock, she said.
She’s hoping her academic journey ends in a career in digital design.
In addition of tutoring, the advocates communicate closely with school personnel to ensure the students gets the proper help, or to fill in the school with obstacles a student might be facing, such as a divorce or moving.
Darnezah Wilkins, a 2023 graduate of Middletown High, said the advocates at UGrad helped her keep up with her grades and smoothly adapt to different styles of learning.
The night’s program featured a profile of each honoree, highlighting their experiences with UGrad and their dreams.
High school graduates:
- Genesis Devone
- Naszail Jenkins
- Teyani Peacock
- Tatianna Turner
- Darnezah Wilkins
- Dal’asha “Shay” Drummond, bachelor’s degree from Widener University
- Kelsey Macbeth, associate degree from University of Delaware
Maurice Pritchett Scholarship Award:
- Odunayo Ogunbo, University of Delaware
This is an annual $1,000 scholarship named after longtime Wilmington educator Maurice Pritchett who recently died.
UGrad Academic Achievement Award:
- Mayda Berrios, MSW from Delaware State University
This award is for students who have excelled in their specific environment. Berrios – who just completed her master’s degree in social work – was a UGrad student throughout her undergraduate at Delaware State University.
The ceremony also honored 10 elementary, middle and high school all-stars.
Raised in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, Jarek earned a B.A. in journalism and a B.A. in political science from Temple University in 2021. After running CNN’s Michael Smerconish’s YouTube channel, Jarek became a reporter for the Bucks County Herald before joining Delaware LIVE News.
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