A Means to Make a Difference

Jesse Hahnel has worked with foster youth since the beginning of his career.

As a teacher in low-performing schools in Washington DC and New York City, Jesse saw first-hand the positive effects a vocal adult had on a child’s success in school. He also noticed the sparse number of adult education advocates for youth in the foster care system.

After graduating from Stanford Law School in 2008, Jesse worked with foster children and foster youth in Oakland to learn what was happening on the ground and to identify their unmet needs.

Not long into his work with Oakland-area foster children, Jesse was contacted by the director of a group home who was concerned about one the children in his home, a 15-year-old boy named Alex, who had not been placed in a school by the local school district despite Alex having been in the group home since November.

Alex originally entered the foster youth system because he needed mental health services his biological family could not provide. Still troubled and in need of help, his absence from school prevented him from obtaining treatment.

But with Jesse’s involvement, Alex was enrolled in a school that met his needs. And after gaining access to the mental health services he required, he eventually returned to live with his biological family.

“Were it not for someone with some expertise working on his behalf, the child might have been out of school for the rest of the year,” Jesse said. “School is important for all children, but for foster youth it takes on a purpose above and beyond just passing exams and learning content areas. For children in the child welfare system, school provides the role models, stability, supports, and community connection other children find at home.”

Children in the foster care system have far more hurdles to overcome compared to other groups of children. Fewer than 3% attend a 4-year college, 50% are unemployed and 33% receive public assistance.

Education can play major role reversing these trends, advancing both academic and social outcomes with foster youth.

Jesse knew the statistics. Even more, Jesse knew how instrumental he had been in helping to get Alex’s -- and a handful of other children’s – life back on track.

Still, Jesse was left with the feeling that his influence was not nearly enough to make an impact.

Jesse wins prestigious Mind Trust Fellowship

But this past December, Jesse won the competitive and prestigious Mind Trust Education Entrepreneur Fellowship to launch the Foster Youth Education Initiative (PDF) , which will soon launch pilots in Oakland (Alameda County) and Indianapolis (Marion County), where the Mind Trust is headquartered.

With the help of this fellowship, Jesse will now have the means to make a difference.

The Foster Youth Education Initiative helps localities develop education advocacy systems: structures that identify foster children with unmet education needs and ensure they receive appropriate educational advocacy and opportunities.

Foster parents, teachers, school administrators, child welfare workers, group home staff, attorneys, judges, court appointed special advocates, and anyone else working with foster children will be able to refer a child to the education advocacy system. The referred child’s situation is investigated with the goal of identifying all educational challenges. Finally, the system ensures that there are adults in the child’s life capable of helping the child overcome these challenges and succeed in school.

At heart, the Foster Youth Education Initiative will provide a single point of access to ensure foster children get the education services they need.

Jesse’s experience as a teacher, his work in public education reform and his work as a public interest attorney with the National Center for Youth Law have given him the perspective to understand educational challenges facing children in the child welfare system.

And as a true social sector entrepreneur, Jesse put the pieces in place to create a solution to the problem.

Jesse’s time as the KIPP Foundation’s Senior Analyst and his 2007 Education Pioneers Fellowship also had a profound effect on him, showing him how the education reform community, and the philanthropists that support education reform, have embraced social entrepreneurship. The child welfare reform community has yet to adopt this approach to improving the systems serving foster children.

“In the last 5 to 6 years, the education community has come to accept that education entrepreneurship is a necessary and vital part of improving public education. The child welfare community has not yet adopted or supported such a strategy,” Jesse said. “The Foster Youth Education Initiative bridges education and child welfare. I believe this Initiative will succeed in helping foster children succeed in school. I also believe it will help spur the growth of an entrepreneurial movement in child welfare reform.”

Education Pioneers provides support such as coaching, business plan review, networking opportunities and resources to Alumni seeking to launch entrepreneurial ventures. Contact Scott Morgan or your local Program Director to share your idea and explore ways we can support you to get it off the ground.

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