Across the county, young adults are celebrating the culmination of years of hard work and determination in the form of a graduation ceremony! In honor of graduates, Eckerd Kids is sharing the stories of foster care and former foster care youth who have recently graduated from either high school or college.
Nineteen year old Kiana Espino graduated on June 6 from Fivay High School in Hudson, Florida. Kiana, who now boasts a high enough GPA to graduate, didn’t think she would even make it to this point a few years ago.
Kiana was removed from her parents as a young teenager and went to live with another relative, where she was not receiving the proper supervision. She was not encouraged to attend school or get good grades so she spent most of her freshman and sophomore years of high schools just skipping and not even attending. After eventually being removed from her aunt, who was an alcoholic, Kiana ended up back in Pasco County where she was originally removed from as a younger teen. Going into her junior year, Kiana had a .7 GPA. Something eventually clicked though and Kiana realized she really needed to start focusing on school because she didn’t want to end up like her parents or her old friends, and she wanted to better herself to get out of foster care.
Since her junior year, Kiana has made up more than 6 classes and raised her GPA up to a 2.3 so she can graduate! Kiana started attending school every day and even stayed late, she also attended summer school, took online classes and did this all while working part time. Kelly Davey, Kiana’s counselor said, “In my 18 years of working with students, I have never seen anyone turn themselves around like Kiana has, it is incredible!”
Kiana credits her success to her older brother who has always been there for her. She says he always pushed her to do better and she learned at a young age that she could only count on herself. People told Kiana she wouldn’t graduate and to just get her GED, but Kiana said, “No, I can do this, and I will.”
Kiana now is excited about her graduation and will be attending Hillsborough Community College in the fall while living in student housing and working. She plans on studying something in the medical field, but is not sure yet exactly what. Currently, Kiana is in extended foster care so she is looking forward to the day when she can be more independent.
Kiana says there is many times she wanted to give up, but looking back she is so glad she never did. Kiana says for other youth out there who think their education is not important, she would tell them to “Keep pushing because whatever you are doing whether it’s skipping school, doing drugs or simply not bettering yourself, it’s just not worth it!”
Kelly Davey, Kiana’s current counselor and counselor to many other students in foster care who reside in Pasco County says the importance of the program Kiana has been a part of with the Pasco County School System and Eckerd Kids really saved her. Davey said, “If it would not have been for this program, who knows where Kiana would be. Instead of falling between the cracks she received individualized attention that included, among other things, a detailed plan to help her graduate on time!”
Eckerd provides a unique program called the Fostering Education Initiative to ensure youth in foster care are provided with the necessary educational supports to be successful. Assigned counselors and social workers work directly with the students in their schools to address any and all educational needs. This often entails addressing barriers, advocating for services and developing educational plans that will ensure academic success. Kiana is a fantastic example of how those services can make the difference between a foster care youth’s success or failure.