A nonprofit dedicated to helping children in foster care succeed in school is expanding a graduation program to Skagit County.
King County-based Treehouse, which was founded in 1988, expanded its Graduation Success program this school year to serve students in an additional five counties — and three local school districts.
“(We) work with high school age youth to help them set goals and learn skills and habits so they can graduate high school with a plan for their future,” said Abby Trimble, Treehouse’s education program services manager for Skagit County. “Learning how to set goals is something that is new for a lot of the youth we serve.”
The Graduation Success program will now serve students attending six local high schools: Burlington-Edison, Burlington-Edison North, Mount Vernon, Emerson, Sedro-Woolley and State Street.
“We’re so excited to be in all these new districts,” Trimble said. “We want to be there, and we want to serve them.”
Local school districts have long worked with Treehouse to serve students in the foster care system, said Rinny Shelton, foster care liaison for the Sedro-Woolley School District. But the Graduation Success program, which brings education specialists into the schools to work directly with students, is new.
“The educational specialist meets with students weekly to provide one-on-one support, helping our youth in foster care engage and invest in their education and future,” Mount Vernon School District Foster Student Liaison Manny Espinoza said.
It’s a step in the right direction making sure those students get the support they need, Trimble said.
“Sedro-Woolley is not that far away from Burlington or Mount Vernon, but boy does it feel like it when we’re trying to access resources for our students,” she said.
The organization has hired two specialists to work with Skagit County students, Trimble said. Since November, they have been meeting with students at their schools once a week.
Meeting with the students at their schools means the specialists are able to coordinate with the students’ teachers, check on grades and attendance, and work with the foster families, Trimble said.
“We’re able to get to know the youth we serve pretty well,” she said. “It helps them see we’re in it for the long run, and we’re there to help them succeed.”
She said students in the foster care system often have to deal with change, such as moving to a new house and a new school district. Every time that happens, it sets students back, sometimes by months.
That setback could cause them to delay graduation and lose hope for their future.
By partnering with YouthNet, which also serves students in the foster care system in the county, and the school districts helps Treehouse make sure each student receives the services they need, Trimble said.
“We’re able to be a lot more proactive in terms of planning or helping them prepare,” she said. “So that they can continue to persist instead of dropping out.”
Statewide, less than 50 percent of youths in foster care graduate high school within five years, Trimble said. For students who choose to work with Treehouse’s education specialists, that number rises to 82 percent.
“Sticking around with them and helping them see that goal they might not have known existed before is something we’re really, really proud of,” Trimble said.
The specialists also provide support for students as they enter college, Shelton said.
“They aren’t all of a sudden just dropped when they turn 18,” she said. “(The specialists are) going to help with that next step, whatever it is.”
Having the specialists close to the students means Treehouse is also able to support students in noneducational ways — everything from paying for driver’s training to helping a student get their hair done before prom.
“They’re willing to step in and advocate for the student,” Shelton said.
By 2022, the organization hopes to be serving students statewide, Trimble said.