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New Grant Benefits Foster Youth at Santa Monica College

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By Hector Gonzalez
Staff Writer

February 19, 2015--A new $40,000 grant will help expose more foster youth enrolled at Santa Monica College to what academic life is like at four-year colleges and universities, SMC officials said.

Provided by the S. Mark Taper Foundation, the grant augments funding the college received in 2013 to launch SMC’s Guardian Scholars program. Last year the program provided scholarships and grants to 76 foster youth at SMC, said Grace Smith, the college’s spokeswoman.

“With this grant, we’re hoping to increase that to up to 100 students this semester,” Smith said.

Most of the program’s funding goes to cover transportation costs for student field trips to major universities like Loyola Marymount, UCLA and other four-year campuses with graduate programs, said Deborah Locke, the program’s coordinator.

“At the beginning of this semester, we took some of the students to Cal State LA. It was a huge eye-opener,” said Locke. “Many of the students have never left the Los Angeles area. Some have never been as far as the beach, if you can believe it.”

By visiting major universities, interacting with students and teachers there, and learning about scholarships and grant opportunities available specifically to foster youth, the students “begin to realize that they are in fact able to go on to a four-year school like everyone else,” said Locke.

The program also provides students with money for their day-to-day needs, such as meals, Smith said.

Paul Hosch, chairman of the Santa Monica College Foundation, called the new Taper Foundation grant “a wonderful affirmation of how much we value these students – and that they recognize the importance of removing any barriers to success for our Guardian Scholars.” 

Smith said foster youth suffer from “a well-documented trend” of educational and economic disparities that often end up derailing their college careers. SMC created the Guardian Scholars program to help off-set those disparities, she said.

Los Angeles County has about 28,000 children in foster care, 38 percent of the state’s foster care population, according to the county Department of Children and Family Services.

Fewer than half of foster kids graduate from high school, while just 3 percent go on to graduate from college, according to the Alliance for Children’s Rights, a nonprofit group that advocates for foster children.

“This gift will have a very long-reaching impact on the foster youth who come to SMC,” said Lizzy Moore, interim president of the SMC Foundation.

Because the Guardian Scholars program is only two years old, it’s still too early to tell if it raises graduation rates of participants, Locke said. But program officials so far have seen some successes in keeping foster students in college, she added.

“We do have good consistency with students in the program rolling over from semester to semester,” said Locke. “About 80 percent of our students rolled over from the spring semester to the fall. So it’s pretty good.”

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