Springfield Teenager Overcomes Adversity to Graduate High School
The chance that a youth leaving foster care will have a negative outcome is significantly higher than youth leaving a stable home.
Alisa Griffiths, manager of Ashley House in Springfield, a transitional living facility for older girls in foster care, run by Presbyterian Children's Homes and Services, said about 75 percent of young women leaving foster care are pregnant within two years. They have poor educational and employment outcomes that often continue many years later.
Services like Ashley House, she said, are the only things standing between those negative outcomes and success.
One resident of Ashley House, Sarah, is getting ready to graduate from Central High School. But a couple of years ago, Sarah couldn’t imagine making it to Friday night’s ceremony.
Before she came to Ashley House, she was struggling.
"I didn't really want to do anything myself," she said, "and I didn't go to school because I didn't think I had to."
Sarah said her mother is disabled, and after her sister moved out, she was her mom’s sole caregiver. She was angry a lot and decided not to go to school since she was already doing so much work at home. She’d leave to hang out with friends and not tell her mom. She described herself then as “really defiant.”
Sarah said she started cooking and basically looking after herself at age seven. Her mom has suffered from back problems for years, and her sister, who’s four years older, was busy with school activities.
At age 12, the family moved to Joplin, and that’s when Sarah said her defiance began. It didn’t end until she got to Ashley House. It was a social worker who was helping Sarah with her social skills who helped turn the teen’s life around.
"And she noticed that my home life wasn't the best, and my mom and I would argue all the time and screaming matches and all of that, and she asked me, 'do you want to be at home?' And I said, 'well, I don't want to leave my mom, but I don't like this situation.'"
She was sent to live with her grandparents where she stayed for a month until their electricity was shut off. From there she went to Children’s Haven, an acute placement facility, for two weeks before going to live at Ashley House.
Sarah said she almost failed her first two years of high school.
"I had a GPA that was a lot lower than it was supposed to be--it was like a one point something," she said.
Sarah’s mom and sister told her to do her homework, but she didn’t understand what she was supposed to do, and no one helped her with it.
"I was like, 'well, I don't know how to do this. I'm not going to do it because I don't feel like putting in effort when it's pointless," she said.
Sarah has been at Ashley House nearly two years. She’s now able to identify things that she does wrong and work to fix them. She still has anger issues, she says, but she’s working to overcome them. The support she’s gotten at the facility in east Springfield has helped her get through school and overcome things from her past.
"It's made me a better person altogether," she said. "I mean, I'm not perfect. I still have my flaws, but I'm better," she said.
Her lowest grade when we talked was a low D, but she expected to bring that up after a big project was turned in.
The staff at Ashley House encourages Sarah and gives her advice. A tutor comes to the house twice a week to help the girls with homework.
While housemates have come and gone, Sarah said she’s learned from them and they’ve learned from her.
"The people that really impacted me they showed me that it's ok to be upset. It's ok to be mad, but sometimes you just need to talk about it instead of bottling it up, and they've also showed me that it's easy to get drawn off the right path and go with what you want to do instead of what you need to do," she said.
And I guess I've showed them that it's ok to have compassion for other people because sometimes they might not be going through the same thing that you are, but they could still have the same emotions about it, so, just like cry with people."
Sarah will leave Ashley House in June to move into a dorm at Missouri State University where she’s already been accepted. She’ll go through the Jump Start Program to bring her grade point average up to a 2.5 so she can start school in the fall.
She plans to major in secondary education and theater.
"Because I want to teach theater to high school students...it's my passion, and I'm really good at teaching," she said.
Sarah has been involved in theater since her freshman year of high school. It’s one of two classes she has an A in—that and choir.
She’s optimistic about the future and having a better life than she had growing up.
"I don't want to live in poverty like my family has. I want to have a decent house, and I want my kids to be able to have everything they need even if it's extra supplies for school. I don't want to struggle and ask my family for money. It's just, I grew up in a really poverty-stricken family, and I had a really big food insecurity, so I don't want there to be any issues with that. And I want to have a nice husband, not a jerk," she said.
She sees her family about every two weeks and will spend a few days with them soon to celebrate her graduation as well as her mom’s and grandma’s birthdays.
She has three nephews who she says are her driving force, and she hopes to be a role model for them.
Alisa Griffiths, house manager at Ashley House, said Sarah has come a long way since arriving at Ashley House. At first, she struggled with social skills and didn’t realize the importance of education.
"She's worked hard in therapy to kind of work on some of those issues," Griffiths said. "She has a work ethic and an education value. I think Sarah's going to be very successful in her future."
Friday night, Sarah will put on her cap and gown and proudly walk into JQH Arena while the CHS Band plays Pomp and Circumstance.