Friday, July 06, 2007

San Pasqual Academy grads happy to receive gifts on wheels
Richardson, Darcy Leigh. San Diego Union Tribune, July 4, 2007.

ESCONDIDO – For some high school graduates, getting a car from mom and dad is an expectation.

For four foster teens who graduated from San Pasqual Academy last week, receiving brand-new cars was a step toward achieving their goals for the future.

The graduates don't have their driver's licenses yet, but to them, learning to drive is just one more challenge to overcome before they start college in the fall.

San Pasqual Academy is a residential school for foster teens who are dependents of the San Diego County Juvenile Court system. Students attend classes, play sports, organize social events and do chores in the residences.

For the second year in a row, New Alternatives, the nonprofit that administers the academy's residential program, presented cars to outstanding graduates chosen for their citizenship, leadership and academic excellence. New Alternatives partnered with Drew Ford and Drew Hyundai of La Mesa to provide cars for four graduates and one alumna of the academy. New Alternatives also is paying for one year of auto insurance for each recipient.

“In California, a car is essential to survival,” said Barbara Waldon, program director for the academy. “A car is a necessity, not a luxury. For these kids who don't have the support of a family, it's very difficult for them to have the financial means to buy a car.”

John Cauthron, 18, will drive a red Ford Focus to San Diego State University, where he will attend summer school and become a full-time student in the fall. John has been in the foster care system since he was 7 months old.

San Pasqual Academy is a residential education campus in Escondido for foster teens. The academy provides foster teens with a stable home, individualized education and the skills needed for independent living.

The campus opened in October 2001 and can accommodate 135 students between the ages of 12 and 18.

There are 27 graduates in the Class of 2007. Eight will attend four-year universities and 10 are enrolled at community colleges.

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“I want to study biochemistry because my aunt's partner had AIDS and died,” John said. “I want to do research and be influential in developing medications.”

John lived with a foster family in Ramona, but when he was 15, the family decided to move to Texas. Since John has a younger brother in San Diego County, he did not want to leave the area and started high school at San Pasqual Academy.

“Every graduation is usually emotional; I see it as the beginning of the end,” John said. “Now the true test begins. I am very independent, but I am thankful for the help I received to make college possible. My heart started pounding really fast when I was handed the keys.”

Ashley Rapp, 18, has attended San Pasqual Academy since October. She described receiving her purple Hyundai Accent as “a shock.”

“You should have been there to see my face,” Ashley said. “I still can't get over how excited I am. This summer I'm going to get a job and start classes at Palomar in the fall.”

Ashley wants to be a physical therapist. She described her senior year at the academy as “stressful but good.”

“Growing up was hard,” Ashley said. “I've been in the (foster care) system since I was 12 because my mother abused us. My younger brother and sister are able to be close to me because they go to San Pasqual Academy, too.”

Linh Quang, 17, will attend Palomar College to study kinesiology. Linh's maroon Hyundai Elantra will be her transportation to work, so she won't have to rely on others for rides anymore.

She said she begged the residential managers at school for a car as a graduation present, but didn't expect to receive one.

“When I first came (to the academy) I didn't try that hard,” Linh said. “But I've learned that you have to think before you do anything and that you just have to work hard and stay focused on what you want.”

Linh has attended San Pasqual Academy for three years. She said it was difficult to concentrate and get good grades before she came to the academy.

“I've been in the foster care system since I was 10,” Linh said. “My stepdad used to beat us.”

Ortisha Jones, 17, graduated from San Pasqual Academy with her older brother, Michael Fields. She plans to study kinesiology at Cal State San Marcos in the fall because she loves sports.

Ortisha had planned to take the written exam to receive her learner's permit June 28 so she could practice for her driving test in her white Hyundai Elantra.

Ortisha has been in and out of the foster care system since second grade. Growing up, she was responsible for her younger sisters.

“Having a car is great,” Ortisha said. “I thought I might get a laptop for graduation, but I'm happy with a car. It'll make things a lot easier.”

Nicole Peterson, 20, the alumna who received a tan-colored Hyundai Elantra, is in the academy's transitional living program for graduates who need assistance after high school.


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