With Help From Hillcrest: How a Partnership With One School Helps Our Youth

Written by Allison Schoonbeck

Written by Allison Schoonbeck

Community Development Intern

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Youth in foster care face unique challenges when working toward their academic goals and earning a high school diploma. Some have transferred schools and even districts multiple times, disrupting their academic progress and severing important social ties. Some work long hours to achieve financial independence, leaving little time for schoolwork and sometimes taking them out of school altogether. 

Additionally, they have experienced abuse, neglect, and trauma prior to entering care, and according to a 2016 study in the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, have anxiety and depression rates seven times that of their peers. 

Rising Above The Odds

As a result, only 53% of foster youth graduate high school or earn their GED by the age of 19 according to a 2019 data brief from the National Youth in Transition Database. Without a diploma or GED, foster children have limited job prospects and an increased risk of homelessness. However, with adequate wrap-around supports, foster youth can and do achieve their academic goals and set themselves up for future success.

Here at Good Samaritan, our youth are doing just that. Thanks to school partnerships with the Pleasant Hope, Willard, and Springfield public school districts, students at the Ranch and in the Transitional Living Program can accomplish their academic goals within a network of support systems. Boys at the Ranch attend public school at Pleasant Hope’s Ranch location, girls at Laura’s Home attend Willard High School, and boys at the Darr House attend Hillcrest High School, our first school district partner. 

A One-Of-A-Kind Partnership

I recently sat down with Brandy Snappington, Attendance Advisor at Hillcrest High School, to chat about her experience working alongside Good Samaritan and our boys at the Darr House.  

“Last year was a learning curve,” she said, “but I think we did some really amazing stuff.” 

Last year was Snappington’s first year at Hillcrest because she held a new, one-of-a-kind position with the school district. It was the first time the district had ever had a building-specific attendance advisor to address the barriers preventing kids from being mentally and physically present in school. 

“Normally in the district, an attendance advisor is shared through an entire feeder pattern, from the high school all the way down to the elementaries,” Snappington said. “Last year my position was brought on specifically to serve Hillcrest students, so that’s why I get to work really, really one-on-one, and look at their case-managed files and speak to the teachers, because this role traditionally doesn’t have the bandwidth to do that.” 

These relationships are essential, not only for Snappington to do her work as a liaison between different support figures in the school and community, but for our boys to feel like they belong. 

 

“When I came into Hillcrest last year, I was really nervous because there’s this community perception that the north side is just tough—tough kids, tough families, tough situations. I realized very quickly that the north side kids, while they are living in some tough situations, are the most lovable kids.” 

For Snappington, our staff at Footsteps have been an inspiration and she values their drive to help youth. Together, they’re ahead of schedule for the upcoming school year. 

“Getting to know Tim [Darr House case manager] over at Footsteps and watching their heart for how they’re helping their children is just really inspiring,” she said. “What I love is that coming in this year, having built that relationship with Footsteps, now it’s like, ‘Okay, here are the kids we have coming in this year’ and ‘What do we need to know to help them be successful?’ before the first day of school and I’m really excited about that.” 

Last year, with the help of Snappington and other support staff, two of our boys who were at risk of dropping out were able to graduate high school using a version of the Missouri Option Program that best suited their aspirations. The Missouri Option Program is designed for youth who are a full year behind their peers in credits because of unique circumstances like foster care, but who have the capabilities to meet the graduation requirements set by the state of Missouri. For one boy, enrolling in the Missouri Option Program was a better fit over a traditional path, and for the other, switching to a virtual version of the program was a more effective way for him to complete high school. These boys not only raised the Darr House graduating class size to double digits from eight to ten, but positioned themselves for greater financial stability and reduced risks of homelessness in the future. 

Snappington told me that starting this school year, other schools in the district will have building-specific attendance advisors as well. The one-on-one attention at-risk students get makes such a significant difference for students. With attendance advisors like Snappington, foster youth like ours are less likely to slip through the cracks. 

“That’s always super promising,” she said, “because I know that they’ve overcome so much as it is, and to help them get that diploma is pretty amazing.”