The youth-written stories in Represent give inspiration and information to teens in foster care while offering staff insight into those teens’ struggles.

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School Is My Life Raft
Anonymous
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Names have been changed.

Going into care changed the way I viewed the world. I didn’t want to be like the other kids in my foster care agency who did drugs and dropped out of school. From the moment I was removed from my mother’s house at age 12, I realized that foster care wasn’t something good to be in. Anything can happen, and you never know where you might end up. While I wish I’d never had to leave my mom’s house, it was in foster care that I discovered a new goal for my future.

I went into care soon after moving from Miami, Florida, to New York City. And we’d only gotten to Miami from Haiti three years before that, so I already had huge changes to deal with. When we first got to New York, my mom, my brother, and I were living in a studio apartment. My mother had to take care of something back in Florida, so she left my brother and me with a pregnant lady she barely knew. I had a bad feeling about this lady, and I told my mom that, but she didn’t listen.

When my mom got back, the pregnant lady wanted to stay with us, but my mom made her leave. She told my mom she’d get revenge. She called the police and said my mother left her kids alone and didn’t take good care of us. The police came when my mom was at work and I was there with my 5-year-old brother—a minor watching a minor. They also saw bruises on my arms and my brother’s arms because my mother hadn’t learned that you’re not supposed to hit your kids in America.

So my mother went to jail for one night, and my brother and I went into care. I couldn’t believe something like this could happen to our family, and I wanted to be back with my mom, even if she did hit me with a belt. I didn’t think she was abusive; she was just teaching me how to be a respectful young adult the way people do in Haiti.

My mom arranged with my foster care agency to place me with her friends Zette and Jean-Pierre. Jean-Pierre was a pastor who knew my mom from her church in Brooklyn and had helped my mom get out of jail. But they took a trip out of the country and didn’t tell the agency that they’d sent me to a friend’s to stay, so I got moved to my second foster home, a big house in Queens with gates made of shiny silver bars and cars parked in front.

Alone

One of the worst things about going to Queens was leaving a school I loved in Brooklyn. That school was fun and I met a lot of cool people there. In the new school, I didn’t know anybody, and all my friends were far away. Going into care m ade me more shy and distant from other people, so I didn’t make any new friends there. It was hard to keep my grades up.

Girls bullied me for being a good student and called me a goody two-shoes. I also got teased for the clothes my new foster mom bought me. One of the girls in my vocal class said that I dressed like a white person; my mom and my last foster parent said I looked like an old lady. I felt very alone—I was in a country that still felt new, separated from my family, and being bullied at school.

Yet being in foster care made me want education more than ever. I’d been a focused student before, but now I felt that education was my only hope to escape from what was happening to my life. I felt a lot more pressure to succeed, and I got more worried about my grades. I needed to excel in school because it was one of the few things I could control.

Ever since I came to America, when I was 9, I heard from my teachers that “education is a key that can open any door.” Hearing that made me feel like I could do anything I put my mind to. After I went into care, instead of going to hang out with my friends, I would go to the library to read books. Or I’d go straight home after school. But it still felt weird living in someone else’s home, so I’d mostly study and only come out of my room to eat and take a shower.

image by YC-Art Dept

Because of foster care, I went to three different middle schools. Adjusting to a new school was very hard each time. When I moved to Queens, it was the middle of the school year and almost time for state exams. I had to rush into lessons to prepare for them.

My fourth foster parents were a doctor and his wife. They said bad things about my mother because they wanted to adopt me, and I didn’t like that. But something happened when I lived with them that changed the direction of my life.

One Saturday we all visited one of their friends who was sick. As we walked into the hospital, I immediately felt at home. The hospital was a 12-story building with many windows. The nurses wore white uniforms or blue scrubs, and the doctors wore white lab coats. I liked those clothes and thought wearing them would make me feel smart and confident.

I liked seeing the nurses and doctors help sick people. I saw one nurse help a woman from her wheelchair to her bed. Another nurse checked my foster parent’s friend’s pulse, blood pressure, and temperature. She seemed to make the patient feel better.

Work as Home

I decided right then I wanted to be a doctor. You get to help people, but sometimes, like on the doctor shows on TV, you have to explain to someone that their relative didn’t make it. I think it would be hard at first, to be responsible for a human’s life and to have to tell loved ones about a patient’s death. But I think I’d be good at comforting the people after I told them the bad news.

I like that doctors work night and day shifts. In foster care, I missed a sense of home, and I thought if I had a job at the hospital, it would become my second home. I felt inspired to go to med school and become a doctor.

I left the hospital feeling very excited about my ambition. One of the few people I was close to at this point in my life was my social worker. I told her that I now wanted to go to Harvard and be a doctor. She was happy that I had big dreams and goals for myself. I never told my foster father how inspiring the trip was or even that I wanted to be a doctor, because I never opened up to my foster parents that much.

I’m going into 10th grade now, and I’m starting to think about what will look good to colleges. Next semester I plan to join the tennis team; I played a little in Florida with friends. I already joined my school’s Red Cross Club. We help in our communities with bake sales and blood drives. I also talk with my own doctor at my appointments about my ambition to be a doctor. She encourages me to keep my grades up. She warned me that the education process is very long but says it’s worth it in the end. She told me she was in a club similar to the Red Cross Club when she was in high school; it was nice to hear I’m on the right track.

I am now back with my mom. School and my dreams of being a doctor still matter to me, but I am more relaxed. I feel free in my own home in a way I never did living with strangers, and I have more quiet time to do my homework. My mom helps by giving me fewer chores on school days; I am thankful for that.

My mom also understands the pressure I put on myself to do well in school. My tutor tells me to relax and not obsess about grades so much, but my mom understands how important school is. For example, my global history grade went from 99 to 98. My tutor says that 98 is excellent and nothing to worry about. My mom said about my 98, “That grade is good, but I know you can bring it up next time.” Which is just what I thought.

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(FCYU-2018-10-20)

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