YESS they can: Compton foster students strive for success

An old apartment complex with barred windows is the headquarters of El Camino College Compton Center’s Foster Care Education Building, a place that provides resources and support to help foster students succeed. There are a variety of adult and youth programs offered by their Foster & Kinship Education, but one in particular seeks to improve all aspects of foster students’ lives: the Youth Empowerment Strategies for Success program (YESS).

On Tuesday evening, YESS coordinator Shateo Griffin and instructor Johnny Conley invited potential students to learn more about the program. The one-hour meeting was part informational session, part support group for the foster students who simply want to graduate high school or further their college education. Over a dinner, Griffin and Conley explained the basics of the YESS program to a room of about 15 interested students.

imageIn order to participate in the YESS program, students must enroll in two El Camino College classes: Introduction to College Planning and Career Planning. Although all El Camino college students can enroll in these classes, priority is given to foster students. The state-funded program is geared towards students ages 16 to 21 and meets twice a week for 12 weeks. Four modules covering education, employment, life skills, and financial responsibility are taught through a series of workshops and in-class speakers. Once the 12-week program is complete, students are guaranteed a job in the summer, as long as they enroll as a full-time college student during the school year and graduate high school or earn their GED.

During the informational session, program coordinators stressed that they wanted to cater to students’ specific needs. Griffin said if students had questions for probation officers or Planned Parenthood services, they had speakers lined up to answer their questions. She also offered to find representatives for each students’ individual educational and career interest. Some subjects covered in class are how to obtain a social security card, writing a resume, practicing for a job interview, and opening a bank account. Students will learn about managing money and applying for financial aid and scholarships.

Some students participate in the YESS program because they need help passing the California High School Exit Exam. One Compton student said “I’m trying to make up some [high school] credits to get back on track. I got knocked off… but I got my head right.” Others simply want to ensure they stay on the right track to graduate college. One student interested in the program already completed coursework to become a pharmacy technician but was returning to school to become a probation officer.

Conley, the only YESS instructor and a USC Masters of Education PASA alum, said: “You can benefit from [this program] if you’re trying to get ahead or catch up.” YESS has a 100% success rate, where every student completes the program and goes on to secure a summer job. According to Conley, the YESS program is ultimately “designed to have a higher college going culture in Compton and the SPA-6 area.” That area covers Lynwood, Compton, Paramount, North Long Beach, and Carson.

When the coordinators weren’t providing information about the program, they were providing encouraging words of support and advice to the students. Pamela Godfrey, one of the program’s coordinators, offered an impromptu inspirational pep talk to the foster students. “Take advantage of everything. Don’t feel bad because you’ve come from this kind of background,” she said. “Everybody comes from somewhere. But you have to put it in yourself to make your life better, and break the chain. Go to college. Get the education. Tell your friends that this is the place to be.”