High School for Foster Kids Graduates Its First Class

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Arise Academy graduated its first class on Tuesday night. (Image Courtesy WPVI)

Amid the news that dropout rates are rising in America, an extra 10 graduates may not sound like much. And while the inaugural grads at Arise Academy didn't make a dent in the national numbers when they got their diplomas earlier this week, they may have proved a new model for a way that can make a dent. 

All 10 graduates of Arise Academy are foster kids. And foster kids, if you check the stats, aren't supposed to graduate.

Of the more than 500,000 foster children in America, fewer than half will graduate from high school. Less than 2 percent will graduate from college. Why are the rates so low? As children are moved from house to house, they're also moved from school to school. Keeping up in class without stability at home is tough; keeping up in several new schools each year is almost impossible. 

That's where Philadelphia's Arise Academy comes in. A charter school exclusively geared for foster kids, Arise lets students stay enrolled no matter where they're living. So for Ashley Bond, who graduated with her nine classmates on Tuesday evening and lived with 15 foster families in the past four years, school life becomes the constant. 

Funded through the public school system, federal aid, and private donations, Arise Academy is the first high school of its kind in the country. It might be new, valedictorian Dianne Pough told NPR, but the model is working:

It's more flexibility, more attentiveness from teachers, and you get more one-on-one time. And a lot of people just are truly here to help you. And the learning here is good, especially if you're at a different level. Because people who go through foster care may not be on the same level as the next person.

Arise also promises to remove any stigma or stereotype foster kids tend to feel enrolling at typical schools, Pough says. All that extra attention is reminiscent of the innovative approach to dropouts in Nashville, where the district has created a school that caters directly to seniors at risk of quitting school. 

A few extra graduates won't change the national dropout trend. But a few more great ideas certainly could. 

Here's footage from Tuesday night's graduation, courtesy of WPVI:


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