Better Futures - Exito

The BUILD EXITO Project at Portland State University includes an innovative program to promote post-secondary education participation through enhancement of self-determination among high-school students in foster care. Prior to its inclusion in the current EXITO programming, Better Futures was conducted as a pilot study led by Laurie Powers, Sarah Geenen and LeeAnn Phillips to test the efficacy of the curriculum for encouraging post-secondary participation. Twice as many students who participated in the program enrolled and attended post-secondary education compared with students in the control group (72% vs. 36%). Better Futures EXITO, led by Shannon Turner and April Baque, matches 15 students in their last year of high-school or GED program with near-peer mentors who are college students with lived experience in foster care. Students are eligible if they are currently in foster care, are in special education or have a mental health challenge, are in their last year of high-school, and are open to the idea of post-secondary education. 
This year's students began the Better Futures EXITO program with a Summer Institute in August where they stayed in the dorms at Portland State for 4 days and 3 nights. During the Institute, students explored the Portland State campus and a neighboring community college campus (Portland Community College). They began to dream about what college might look like for them and built relationships with peers and mentors through fun activities together during the week. Following the Institute, students began meeting 1-to- 1 with their near-peer mentors at least twice a month to set goals for their education, gather information, make informed decisions, and take action together. Additionally, the cohort of 15 students met once a quarter for workshops to learn together and continue to build their community by sharing meals and engaging in recreational activities. So far, students have attended workshops on applying for college and financial aid. Next term, the workshops will focus on celebrating student accomplishments as well as learning more about EXITO opportunities once they are attending college next year.