FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Celebrating Alternative Education Settings Serving At-Risk Youth
Washington, DC – Approximately 40 boarding schools and children’s homes for over 10,000 socially and economically disadvantaged youth across the United States will celebrate next Wednesday the third-ever National Residential Education Day. The celebration is part of a national effort to increase public awareness of “residential education” as a crucial option for at-risk youth.
Residential education (RE) programs are community-like settings where children severely challenged by homelessness, abuse, neglect, the child welfare system, and low-income, high-crime neighborhoods live and learn together, outside of their homes, within stable, supportive environments. The majority of children live on a campus, in single-family homes with a married couple and seven to ten other boys or girls. Other children, mostly in urban areas, live in boarding school-style dormitories with trained adult mentors. Whether called a preparatory program, children’s home, boarding or residential charter program, RE is a viable and important option for thousands of children nationwide, particularly teenagers who are often difficult to place in stable and nurturing foster care settings. In 2010, 79% of CORE-member residential education program graduates went on to attend two- and four-year colleges.
With an average length of stay of two years and funded privately or through a public-private partnership, residential education is a growing trend that transforms the lives of children on the margins.
Positioned within National Foster Care Month, National Residential Education Day seeks to increase recognition and understanding of the approximately 150 programs across the country that provide at-risk youth chances to live safe, productive, and meaningful lives. September 2006 federal foster care legislation was passed adding residential education as a valid placement option for children in the child welfare system, and as a viable alternative to traditional foster care homes.
“Kids need physical and emotional safety, and they need a quality education. They need the feeling of belonging to a nurturing community, a belief in self, and a structure to grow in,” says Heidi Goldsmith, executive director of Washington, DC-based CORE: the Coalition for Residential Education, the organization spearheading National Residential Education Day. “Ideally, that structure is a good family. But if that is not possible, kids need not what looks like a family, but what behaves like a healthy family.”
Programs in Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, Texas, Oklahoma and beyond are hosting open house events and on-campus parades and celebrations, instituting Advocacy Days to bring youth and alumni to speak with state policymakers, implementing letter-writing campaigns to state legislators, planning lecture series that further educate participants about residential education, reaching out to local media, and making “A Day in the Life of…” films to spread awareness of this valuable education alternative.
Milton Hershey School student, Arman Asemani says he made many mistakes as a 13-year old, but “then I got a second chance.” Hershey School was the first place where his classmates didn’t know how “messed up my parents were.” For the first time the parents of his classmates were not urging their children to avoid him. “I got a chance to reinvent myself,” said Asemani, a confident, bespectacled honor student. While he has detailed the burdens of his unstable life before he arrived at Milton Hershey School, Asemani says that they were nothing compared to what they would be “if residential education had not saved me from self-destruction.” Residential education is a great equalizer and when young people are in a group situation where “everyone is disadvantaged, suddenly no one has an excuse” to fail.
For more information on residential education and specific events occurring around the country, contact Aviva Braun at CORE: the Coalition for Residential Education, 301-656-6101 or visit www.residentialeducation.org.
On April 1, 2011, 7 alumni of CORE member programs, Golden Globe and Emmy Award-winning actress Sela Ward, and CORE’s Founder/ Executive Director Heidi Goldsmith, urged policymakers at the House of Representatives and the Senate to “Ensure Options for At-risk Youth: Preserving the “Residential Education as one ‘Tool in the Toolbox’ for youth in foster care, and other.
The message clear, and succinct, and almost anyone hearing the alumni’s superb and varied testimonies would agree with our premise: Youth need more, not fewer, options, as different solutions work for different youth. As the very gracious and beautiful Actress Sela Ward, the final panelist at our event at the US House of Representatives, said, “Why are we even having to ASK for permission to serve youth in this way? Of COURSE more options, including residential education programs, are needed!”
Presenters included 7 alumni ranging in age from 18 – 34, Sela Ward (and spontaneously her venture capital husband, “Pay now or pay even more later!” Howard), and Heidi Goldsmith. Two Congressmen showed up in person (we are told this rarely happens), and we are told that most of the staff on the relevant House subcommittee of Ways and Means came, despite it being very busy on the Hill that day, especially with budget negotiations.
Before and after the House panel, the delegation met with Senate staff.