Graduation season is here and for the ninth year in a row, graduation rates in Florida have been on the rise.
But for youth in foster care, it doesn't always turn out this way. Nationally, fewer than 58% of all foster teens who age out of the system have a high school degree compared to 87% of youth in the general population.
At the age of 14, My'Keal Conyers learned she was pregnant with her first child. She soon learned that as a single foster teen mom to two young children, ages one and three, it was about to become much harder for her to get a diploma.
"Family members start looking at you different," she said. "They're like oh, she's not going to graduate, you're not going to come to nothing."
But she refused to give up her dream of graduating Gibbs High School in Pinellas County. She has spent the last few years attending school full time, working part time at her local Dunkin Donuts store.
"Gotta live a life for my kids and give them a life that I didn't have," she said.
My'Keal was able to graduate high school not only through her own hard work, but the support of community partners.
Eckerd Kids is working with the community to help local foster youth, and increase the number of graduations seen amongst foster teens with two specific initiatives Fostering Education Initiative and Extended Foster Care.
In partnership with the Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties school districts, Eckerd's Fostering Education Initiative provides school guidance counselors and social workers to Tampa Bay area foster children ages 0 -18 in licensed care. Eckerd's objective is to ensure that each youth served receives the appropriate educational supports necessary to achieve academic excellence.
Eckerd Kids also works with Camelot Community Care to offer an independent living program through extended foster care. This program assists older teens in the foster care system as they prepare to turn 18, as well as provides assistance to young adults who previously aged out of the foster care system. Services include life skills training, education coordination, support services, job coaching and financial skills training.
Now, they are asking local employers to allow students like My'Keal into their workplaces allowing them to job shadow for a day, hopefully inspiring them to continue their education and graduate.
If you would like to volunteer your time, they ask you please email Candice Henry with Camelot Community Care at email@example.com.
"They can be successful and they can work on achieving their goals," said Alejita Rodriguez of Camelot Community Care.
While 60-percent of teen mothers never graduate from high school, My'Keal beat the odds, becoming the first child in three generations to graduate from her grandfather's side of the family.
"You go from, you're not going to do this to, bam, look what I did!" she said.
My'Keal continues to work to show everyone what she is capable of. She graduated on June 3rd from Gibbs High School in St. Petersburg.