Academic Success for Students in Foster Care Begins with Strong Partnerships Between Child Welfare and Education Systems | Big Indy News
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Academic Success for Students in Foster Care Begins with Strong Partnerships Between Child Welfare and Education Systems



By: Aysha E. Schomburg, Associate Commissioner of the Children’s Bureau in the Administration on Children, Youth and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Ruth Ryder, Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education (OESE), U.S. Department of Education

The 2021-2022 school year has come to a close. As students begin their summer break, the U.S. Departments of Education (ED) and Health and Human Services (HHS) come together to highlight the significant work that American educators and child welfare professionals have done to support students in foster care; to provide information about resources available for schools to support students in foster care; and to provide information about federal collaboration and efforts in this space.

First, we want to thank the American educator—and child welfare agency workforce who support students in foster care every day. We are thankful for the tireless work of professionals—including teachers, social workers, and counselors—who strive to ensure that a student’s engagement with the child welfare system does not have an adverse impact on that student’s academic experiences and opportunities to succeed. We are especially grateful that educators and child welfare staff have collaborated so effectively in neighborhood schools, as well as at the district and state levels. Partnership and shared goals are crucial to ensuring that students in foster care have unfettered access to the supports they need. Both child welfare professionals and educators have a responsibility to encourage all students in foster care to reach their academic goals by providing access to resources that help support the social and emotional well-being of children in foster care.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a life altering event for students, families, educators, school support staff and the child welfare workforce. More than 140,000 children’s lives were permanently changed by the loss of a mother, father, or grandparent caregiver, and children of racial and ethnic minorities accounted for 65% of those who lost a primary caregiver due to the pandemic.1 Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, students in foster care faced unique barriers to succeeding in school and graduating from high school. Moreover, the pandemic has had a disproportionate effect2 on low-income and traditionally underserved student populations, especially students in foster care and children of color. Therefore, we want to acknowledge the role that educators and child welfare professionals have long played in supporting the mental health of students of all ages and families before and during the pandemic. We further emphasize how important it is to ensure that the professionals who support students and families also have access to the services needed to foster their own emotional wellness. We will continue to share and uplift best practices and resources3 aimed at supporting the wellness and mental health needs of students, their families, and the child welfare and education professionals who support them.

Though the pandemic added stress to the lives of students in foster care and the adults who support them, it also resulted in an influx of resources being available to help these students. State educational agencies and school districts can use Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Funds, including the ESSER funds allocated under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, to provide an array of supports to students in foster care to help them navigate the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Details are available here. In addition, the Full-Service Community Schools[4] program improves the coordination, integration, accessibility, and effectiveness of services for children and families through parent leadership, family literacy, mentoring, youth development programs, and activities that can improve access to and use of social service programs, programs that promote family financial stability, and mental health services. Further, President Biden’s proposed budget for the U.S. Department of Education for Fiscal Year 2023 includes $30 million designated for a new program designed to improve the educational outcomes for students in foster care. ED believes this program will enable educational agencies to establish partnerships with child welfare agencies to better address the unique needs of students in foster care. Finally, additional funding for the Chafee Foster Care Program for Successful Transition to Adulthood, provided through Division X of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, also remains available through expenditure through September 30, 2022. Information on this funding is available here.5

In conclusion, ED and HHS are committed to extending our collaboration in tangible ways at the federal level. Our agencies intend to co-host a webinar this fall – co-designed with young adults who experienced foster care – to share best practices on how state and community partners are designing academic programming for students in foster care. Through this webinar, we hope to promote understanding of the experiences of students in foster care; underscore the importance of interagency collaboration at the federal, state, and local levels to support this student population; and demonstrate effective partnerships between child welfare and educational agencies. 

To learn more about our agencies’ shared commitment to ensure that students in foster care are able to meet their full academic potential, please visit our webpages at (ED) and (HHS).   

1 S Hillis, et al. Covid-19-Associated Orphanhood and Caregiver Death in the United States. Pediatrics. DOI: 10.1542/peds.2021-053760.

2 Education in a Pandemic: The Disparate Impacts of COVID-19 on America’s Students

3 Children’s Bureau (2022) Tip Sheet on Responding to Youth and Young Adult Mental Health Needs. Division X. Technical Assistance.

4 Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, Full Service Community Schools Programs.

5 ACYF-CB-PI-21-04. Guidance and instruction related to the Supporting Foster Youth and Families through the Pandemic Act, Division X of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, Public Law (P.L.) 116-260, enacted December 27, 2020.

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Adnan Syed of ‘Serial,’ Newly Freed, Is Hired by Georgetown University



Adnan Syed, who was freed in September after he spent 23 years in prison fighting a murder conviction that was chronicled in the hit podcast “Serial,” has been hired by Georgetown University as an associate for an organization whose work mirrors the efforts that led to his release, the university has announced.

Mr. Syed, the subject of the 2014 podcast and pop-culture sensation that raised questions about whether he had received a fair trial after being convicted of strangling his high school classmate and onetime girlfriend Hae Min Lee in 1999, will work for Georgetown’s Prisons and Justice Initiative.

Mr. Syed, who was 17 at the time of Ms. Lee’s death in Baltimore, has steadfastly maintained his innocence.

The university said that Mr. Syed, now 41, will help support programs at the organization, such as a class in which students reinvestigate wrongful convictions and seek to “bring innocent people home” by creating short documentaries about their findings. The program, founded in 2016, “brings together leading scholars, practitioners, students and those affected by the criminal justice system to tackle the problem of mass incarceration,” according to its website.

Georgetown University, which is in Washington, said that in the year leading up to his release, Mr. Syed was enrolled in the university’s bachelor of liberal arts program at the Maryland prison where he was incarcerated.

“To go from prison to being a Georgetown student and then to actually be on campus on a pathway to work for Georgetown at the Prisons and Justice Initiative, it’s a full circle moment,” Mr. Syed said in a statement. “P.J.I. changed my life. It changed my family’s life. Hopefully I can have the same kind of impact on others.”

He added that he hoped to continue his education at Georgetown and go to law school.

The new job this month culminated what has been a remarkable year for Mr. Syed, whose case has again received widespread public attention after a flurry of recent legal activity.

In September, Mr. Syed was released from prison after a judge overturned his murder conviction. Prosecutors said at the time that an investigation had uncovered various problems related to his case, including the potential involvement of two suspects and key evidence that prosecutors might have failed to provide to Mr. Syed’s lawyers.

In October, prosecutors in Baltimore dropped the charges against Mr. Syed after DNA testing on items that had never been fully examined proved Mr. Syed’s innocence, officials said.

Ms. Lee’s family filed an appeal with the Maryland Court of Special Appeals after prosecutors dropped the charges.

On Nov. 4, the court said in an order that the appeal could be heard in court in February.

Marc Howard, the director of the Prisons and Justice Initiative, said in a statement that Mr. Syed’s “commitment to the program and to his education was clear from the moment he stepped into the classroom.”

He added that Mr. Syed “is one of the most resilient and inspiring people I’ve ever met, and he has so much to offer our team and the other students in P.J.I. programs.”

In a Georgetown University article about the hiring, Mr. Syed said that he was in disbelief when he first saw a flier for the program.

“It became this domino effect to see us be accepted,” he said. “It made it become something real in the eyes of others, that there are opportunities. There can be a sense of hope: a sense of hope that things can get better, a sense of hope that I can work hard and still achieve something, a sense of hope that I can still do something that my family will be proud of.”

His attachment to the school was evident on Sept. 19, when he walked out of prison for the first time since he was a teenager.

Amid a throng of reporters and his supporters, Mr. Syed walked down the courthouse steps in Baltimore, smiling. He gave a wave.

And in his hand, he carried a binder with a Georgetown sticker. His graded papers and tests were inside.

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At Berkeley Law, a Debate Over Zionism, Free Speech and Campus Ideals



“Supporting Palestinian liberation does not mean opposition to Jewish people or the Jewish religion,” the group said in a statement to the Berkeley law community. Members of the group did not respond to messages seeking an interview.

After learning about the bylaw, Mr. Chemerinsky met with the university’s Hillel rabbi and spoke with several Jewish students, but, aside from concerns within the law school, the reaction was relatively muted, he said.

That changed, he said, after Kenneth L. Marcus, the civil rights chief of the U.S. Education Department during the Trump administration, wrote about the bylaw in September in The Jewish Journal under the explosive headline “Berkeley Develops Jewish Free Zones.”

Mr. Marcus wrote that the bylaw was “frightening and unexpected, like a bang on the door in the night,” and said that free speech does not protect discriminatory conduct.

The article went viral.

Mr. Chemerinsky said he learned about Mr. Marcus’s article, which he described as “inflammatory and distorted,” while he was in Los Angeles for a conference. Mr. Chemerinsky said he typed out a response to the article, which was appended to it, and then didn’t think much of it. That afternoon, he was deluged by emails. At an alumni event that night, the law school’s perceived hostility to Jews was “all anyone wanted to talk about.”

In an interview, Mr. Marcus, a Berkeley law school alumnus, said that he was contacted by law students there who were concerned about the bylaw. He said he spent weeks trying to support them and wrote his article after Berkeley did not “rectify the problem.”

Not allowing Zionist speakers, he said, was a proxy for prohibiting Jews. The provisions, he said, are “aimed at the Jewish community and those who support the Jewish community,” even while acknowledging that the policy could allow Jewish speakers and bar those who are not Jewish.

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‘Better Defined By Their Strengths’: 5 Ways to Support Students With Learning Differences



“People with learning differences are human,” wrote Deanna White, a neurodiversity advocate and parent learning coach in response to a question we posed on LinkedIn. “Unique individuals and wonderful humans that are better defined by their strengths. So stop focusing on the weakness.”

We invited our social media followers across Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter to weigh in on the most effective way schools can better support students with learning differences.

Responses ranged from shifting educators’ mindset—like highlighting student strengths—to more far-reaching changes that would require schoolwide or district support.

Focus on students’ strengths

There are many ways of encouraging students to play to their strengths, as educators Winston Sakurai and Phyllis Fagell demonstrated in an August 2022 article by Education Week Assistant Editor Denisa Superville.

They detailed how they shared their own learning struggles as a way to connect with their students. Their personal successes show students, who may be struggling academically or socially, that anything is possible.

Here’s what other educators had to say.

1. Help them understand their learning strengths and challenges and growing them as strong self-advocates.

2. Devoting time and money to developing teachers’ abilities to differentiate.

– Amy S.

By having high expectations and giving them exposure to high-quality materials and experiences, even ones that seem “above them.” They will shock us with their insights every time.

– Angela P. 😒😒🥴

Meet students where they are

In a 2015 primer on the topic, EdWeek Assistant Editor Sarah D. Sparks wrote about how “differentiated instruction”—the process of identifying students’ individual learning strengths, needs, and interests and adapting lessons to match them—became a popular approach to helping diverse students learn together. Respondents largely agreed.

Time to work with every student. If you can meet with a child for a bit of time to help with exactly what she or he needs, it might ignite both learning and understanding.

Alison K.

So many ways…start with environment, a.k.a. The Third Teacher.

  • Reduce obstacles

  • Increase supports

  • Meet kids where they are

(h/t @drncgarrett)

Matt R.

Small class sizes, strong positive teacher/student relationships, differentiated instruction, and reflection.

Yvonne E.

Smaller class sizes

In a 2017 Opinion essay, former teacher Marc Vicenti wrote about “the daily wear and tear on educators when trying to juggle a full teaching load and meaningful relationships with lively young people who all have different needs and experiences.”

“We can either choose to be less effective in our practice or exhaust ourselves—neither of which is beneficial to students or our own well-being,” he wrote.

Smaller class sizes are one way of mitigating the risk of burnout while working to meet each student’s needs.

Small classes, small schools, local control. I am the principal in a pretty small school in a small community and I know every child, and every family and we can build programs to meet our students’ needs. A country run or state run school system can’t do that.

Ryan G.

Increase funding to actually lower the student-to-teacher ratio. This allows teachers to give more time to the individual.

Cathleen W.

Fewer standardized tests

Standardized tests have long been criticized for narrowing instruction and for holding all students to the same standard when “students enter school at varying levels and learn and grow at different rates.”

The backlash against standardized testing renewed interest in alternative ways to evaluate students’ learning progress, like “performance assessments—the idea of measuring what students can do, not merely what they know”.

STOP standardized testing.

Dawn W.

Fewer standardized or timed tests, teaching to mastery, not according to a schedule.


Give students a voice

Sometimes it’s best to go to the source to discern how to best tackle an issue. Giving these students a voice can not only empower them in their learning, but also help educators understand how to have the biggest impact.

Ask them how they learn and what helps. Give them a voice!

Grisel W.

Yes! Listening to what students need and giving them a voice is something we need to do for all students, but especially those who need more help in the classroom.

Victoria D.

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