Friday, July 20 , 2018, 4:50 pm | Fair 74º


Children’s Project Academy Fuels Hope for Foster Kids

Nonprofit group celebrates purchase of Los Alamos land to build California's first residential charter school for foster children

The Children’s Project Academy has taken a giant leap forward by purchasing a 114-acre site in Los Alamos to build a residential charter school for foster children in grades seven through 12.

Initially funded by a grant from the Santa Barbara Foundation, Children’s Project Academy founder and CEO Wendy Read and her dedicated team of community members have been working on the project since 2003. It will be California’s first residential charter school.

There are approximately 700 children in the foster-care system in Santa Barbara County. According to national research, their circumstances are grim:

» Foster youth change schools about once every six months and lose an average of five months of educational attainment with each transfer

» 75 percent of children in foster care are behind grade level

» 50 percent of youth in the system do not graduate from high school

» 25 percent of former foster youth are incarcerated within their first two years of “aging out” of the foster-care system and within 18 months of emancipation

» About 50 percent of foster youth become homeless

The nonprofit Children’s Project Academy aims to address these discouraging outcomes head-on by providing foster children with a year-round, academically rigorous education, and a supportive and stable residential community.

“Even though we’ve only owned the land for one month and three days, we’ve been looking at this piece of land for a year and a half so we really know all the details of it and every nook and cranny, and we’re figuring out the best place to put the school and the best way to utilize the space,” Children’s Project board president Nancy Martz said at a party held last week to celebrate the land purchase milestone.

Of the 114 acres, 100 are zoned for agriculture, which is compatible with building a charter school, Martz explained. The rest of the land is zoned for residential and commercial, which gives the group plenty of possibilities and opportunities for its use.

Read, whom Martz described as “the inspiration and the vision and the dream behind all of this,” spoke of the challenges the Children’s Project has faced in getting off the ground.

“(Board member) Laurie Ashton and I were at a meeting where somebody actually muttered under their breath, ‘What medication are they on?’” Read joked. “For us it’s not really a question of crazy, it’s a question of hope.

“I think it was Harvey Milk who said ‘hope is never silent’ and for us that has really been true. There are a lot of things that we hope here tonight. We hope that our community understands the difference between the dependency court and the delinquency court.”

Within Santa Barbara’s juvenile court system, the delinquency court is “where those kids who have gotten in trouble and have broken the law go,” said Read. “The dependency court is the foster-care system and that’s the court system that kids enter into through no fault of their own. They are brought in that system because their parents have been determined to need help with their parenting skills. So we hope that the community understands the difference because we really feel like foster kids have gotten a bad rap.”

Read said the academy will provide the hope, and more.

“For five years, we have been working under the radar, we have been learning about charter school law, we have been learning about property law, we have been learning about the dependency court law,” Read said. “We’ve been working with a team of architects and boarding school professionals and educators and psychologists who have helped us come up with a conceptual idea for our campus that we’re really excited about.”

Read and her team have envisioned a charter school campus for 120 junior high and high school students, where the children and their teachers live on campus. They’ve also designed a foster grandparenting program so seniors can live on campus and mentor the children in exchange for rent. Plans also include an innovative and creative curriculum, a student union building, a cultural and family center, athletics, art and music programs, a technology/media center, medical clinic and an energy- and resource-efficient green campus.

While the evening, at the Hope Ranch home of Tammy and Kim Hughes, was not a fundraising event, Martz announced that the group had raised about $1 million to date and would soon be sending out an annual appeal letter, urging that “We at the Children’s Project don’t want you to give until it hurts, we want you to give until it feels good.”

Click here for a video presentation about the Children’s Project Academy, or call 805.682.5419 for more information.

Noozhawk contributor Leslie Dinaberg can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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