Foster youth finds his stride, full-ride scholarship

Courtesy Jaquel Pitts

Jaquel Pitts entered foster care when he was 5 years old, moving through six homes before aging out of the system at 18.

That might sound like the first line of a sad story, but as Pitts is quick to point out, that is the stereotype. His future is looking very bright.

Pitts, now 20, graduated from Central Valley High School in 2012 with a 2.8 grade-point average, a B minus. He went on to the College of the Siskiyous in Weed, a community college, graduating this spring with an associate degree in social science and a vocational degree in business.

After completing some units at Reedley College near Fresno this summer, Pitts said, he will head to Albany State University in Albany, Ga., on Aug. 1 with a full-ride scholarship and plans to play on the university football team.

“They tell you only 1 to 3 percent of foster kids graduate from college,” he said. That discourages a lot of kids, Pitts said, but he took it as a challenge.

“I felt like that was a sense of disrespect. If you’re a foster child, you can be successful, regardless,” he said. Too many social workers talked to him as if failure was a given, and not to feel bad about it, he said.

“We’re basically told it’s OK not to try,” Pitts said. But just like everyone else, teens in the foster care system need to persevere, he said. “They should be focused on the future.”

He searched Google for services he needed to move ahead, and found resources for foster youth going unused because so few teens plan to go to college.

“Counselors need to be more positive to motivate all youth,” Pitts said. He found mentors who believed in him and helped him feel connected to school, even when his home shifted and he felt out of place all over again.

“I had a different worldview,” he said. “I was always the funny guy.”

But he stuck with it, studying hard and using sports to let off steam. “I was focused on a prize every time,” he said.

His next prize will be a bachelor’s degree, maybe in a social science or psychology. After that, a career as a high school counselor, where he can be that positive role model and a mentor for kids. “That’s my passion,” he said.