Making the Connection in the Classroom

During the fall season, teachers are assessing students’ academic levels. In particular, students who have been referred to special education schools such as Hillsides Education Center have specific academic and behavioral goals they are working on that are outlined in their individualized education plan. For foster care children, researchers have identified a number of challenges these children commonly experience in the education and child welfare systems. These problems include instability, persistent low expectations, poor adult advocacy on their behalf, inadequate life-skills training, special education needs, and cultural sensitivities.

At HEC, teachers and students work together to bring consistency into their curriculum, clarify what are the expectations, provide support systems, identify social skills to help with behavioral goals, and enrich their lives with hands-on, interactive activities and outings. Although, the Child Welfare League of America points out that the rate at which foster youth complete high school (50%) is significantly below that of their peers (70%), we are delighted that Hillsides Education Center students complete high school at a higher rate of their peers (100%).

Numerous studies indicate anywhere between one-quarter and almost one-half (23%-47%) of children and youth in out-of-home care in the U.S. receive special education services at some point in their schooling, according to the National Working Group on Foster Care and Education. With that in mind, we believe it is critical to support our students in creating opportunities for them to experience successful academic and behavioral outcomes. We celebrate with them when they reach milestones. When Justin’s social impediments impacted his ability to learn, we encouraged him to make a friend. He began making notable progress in his academics. When Jada’s provocative and destructive behavior impeded her ability to learn, we advocated for her to have a one-on-one behavioral specialist. She is now close to being a model citizen.

Nationally, roughly half of all foster children will spend at least one year in foster care, with twenty percent staying longer than three years and nine percent staying for more than five years, according to the Heritage Foundation. Unlike their peers in traditional families, many foster children do not have an adequate safety net or social network and cannot rely on parents or other relatives to facilitate a smooth transition out of the home and into adulthood.

In addition, The National Conference of State Legislatures reported that foster children had “high rates of grade retention; lower scores on standardized tests; and higher absenteeism, tardiness, truancy and dropout rates” when compared to the general population. With these daunting statistics facing the vulnerable children and youth we serve, our mission is to create safe places for them to learn, grow and thrive to become productive citizens, in the classroom and in the home.

With support from individuals, corporations, and organizations, we are able to enhance the student’s experience while enrolled at Hillsides Education Center. SMART Boards, interactive whiteboards that integrate technology, are installed in every classroom. Vocational training offers students hands-on experience. A monthly visiting artist program boosts self-confidence in students. A stunning children’s library with more than 8,000 is the setting for ongoing author visits and reading with the students. We can do more to connect our students with the curriculum.

I encourage you to contact our director of community resources and offer your talent, time or treasure. Our librarian encourages any individual who has a talent, ranging from beading to cooking, to contact her. She designs a reading session with students by integrating your skill or talent and offering reading books that relate to the topic. She connects the reading and activity in various ways to engage students and help them with their IEP goals, including self-confidence.

If you would like to make a connection with Hillsides Education Center or Hillsides, call 323-254-274 ext. 251, visit to learn more about our programs or see how you can fulfill one of our wishes.

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