CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Christina Tyler, a business major at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, was chosen to take the trip of a lifetime as a representative at the 5th annual Congressional Foster Youth Shadow Program. This year’s program was held May 22-27 in Washington, D.C. Tyler, who was born and raised in Corpus Christi, entered the foster care system at age 13 and aged out when she turned 18.
“I have never been on a plane, or even out of Texas, before the trip,” said Tyler. “It made me realize the world is such a big place.”
The Congressional Foster Youth Shadow Program is an all-expense paid opportunity for young people with personal experience in the foster care system to spend time with their Congressional representative, as well as White House officials.
“I was told that more than 300 people from Texas applied to go, but only three were chosen,” said the 20 year old. “For me, it was a one-in-a million opportunity.”
Participating in the Shadow Program allows youth and policymakers to meet and learn from one another. Young people in and from foster care are able to speak to and learn about Congress and the White House while gaining a hands-on understanding about how the U.S. government operates. Members of Congress are able to listen to the stories of young people and gain a well-rounded understanding of the experiences of youth in foster care, which will help them as they pursue policies that impact all foster youth.
While at the nation’s capital, Tyler shadowed U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, whose district includes Corpus Christi. Tyler says she spoke to Farenthold about the importance of transitional support for foster kids as the leave the system at age 18, and especially for those who would like to go to college using the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services college tuition waiver.
“With this waiver, I am able to focus on earning my business degree,” said Tyler. “I ultimately want to go to law school and get a Ph.D.”
Tyler says she is lucky to have her current support system, which includes a Court Appointed Special Advocate volunteer Markell Rowe, who has become like a mother figure to her. She also has reliable transportation and housing. She knows not all foster kids are as fortunate.
“A lot of foster kids who go to college don’t have any structure during the summer months,” said Tyler. “Sometimes that means the student will become homeless in the summer and then struggle to continue their education once the semester starts back up.”
Tyler faced many challenges in her youth. As a young teen in foster care, she moved from school to school and home to home. She says she started to fall behind in middle school, especially in math, because different schools used different lesson plans, causing her to miss big chunks of instruction.
“I finally caught up when I attended Collegiate High School,” said Tyler. “I almost had to transfer out right before graduating, but the staff there fought to keep me. I’m grateful to them for standing by me.”
While at Collegiate High School, located on the campus of Del Mar College, Tyler was able to simultaneously earn her high school diploma and an associate’s degree in Liberal Arts.
Statistics show that only 10 percent of foster children attend college, and only three percent of those students graduate. Tyler wants to see that number grow and encourages fellow foster kids to never give up on their schooling.
“No one can take away your education,” said Tyler. “Don’t get discouraged, especially when you hear the statistics about foster kids. If you fail a class, it’s not the end of the world. If your GPA drops, find a tutor. Know you are not alone. There is always someone willing to help if you just let them know you need help.”