The PSU program helps former homestay students

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. (WTAJ) — For many young people in the foster care system, furthering their education at the college level may seem out of reach.

The Fostering Lions program was founded in 2018 to provide support, essential college services, and help develop skills for post-graduation success to Penn State students who were previously in foster care.

“When asked, 80% say they want to go to college,” said Fostering Lions coach Cheri McConnell. “Twenty percent actually go, and only 2-9% graduate.”

McConnell said most homestay students don’t have a role model that would steer them specifically toward college. She seeks to change that.

“I’ve been across the state, in child and youth services, speaking to their staff during presentations to their students involved in independent living. Again, let them know college is an option,” McConnell said.

“We’ve grown since then,” McConnell added. “I’ve grown from three students to the 38 I currently work with.”

One student taking advantage of these resources is Aniyah Gardner. Gardner is a sophomore who said the program helped her adjust to life at Penn State.

“You’re not just interacting with other people who are in foster care and, like, learning from them,” Gardner said. “You also learn from other people on campus.”

Gardner said it made him want to interact with other people and made him want to learn other things on campus.

After taking a year off and transitioning to a virtual format, McConnell hopes to bring Fostering Little Lions Camp back soon. At an in-person summer camp for youth in foster care, attendees got a taste of what college is like.

“My goal is to work with my points of contact to make this happen on multiple Penn State campuses,” McConnell said. “So if we can get out to campuses, we can reach more students and give them the experience and get them excited about college.”

She is also looking to expand the program to the whole community in the future.

“I would love to see the community one day have the opportunity to come and meet with these students on a regular basis,” McConnell said. “I think it would be a great resource for students.”

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