Aaron Atkinson is a 2018 Bezos Scholar Educator and teacher at West Valley High School in Cottonwood, California. Throughout his teaching career he has been passionate about helping foster youth. In honor of Foster Care Awareness Month, Aaron shared how this passion developed and what he’s been doing to support foster youth in his community.
From the start of my career in education, I have been passionate about helping and supporting foster youth. This passion started to develop during my time at San Diego State University where I worked at an elementary-school day care. There I noticed that foster children struggled socially compared to their peers. After college, I began my teaching career as a teaching assistant and then substitute teacher in a juvenile hall. This experience made me more aware of the high disproportionate incarceration rates of foster youth. After working in a juvenile hall, I began teaching in a public school where I noticed how foster youth struggle academically compared to their peers. My first-hand experience of the academic and social disparities between foster children and their peers, moved me to help beyond what I was able to do in the classroom.
To find out more ways to support foster youth, I searched for local volunteer opportunities. I found the perfect fit: Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA). As a CASA, I was assigned to support and advocate for one or more children who are in the foster system. My sole focus was on their well-being. This was the perfect fit for me and is a great way for anyone to spend time improving the life of a foster child.
While I immensely enjoyed working as a CASA, I took a break from volunteering to return to graduate school to pursue my administrative credential. I realized that as an eventual principal, I could have more of an impact on a larger population of foster children.
During my time at graduate school, I met a lovely woman whom I eventually married. Early on we discussed and decided on adoption as a means for growing our family. After moving to Northern California, we started to explore the adoption process, and began working towards our foster license, to eventually foster children in our home. The licensing process, was an eye-opening experience.
We learned that the rate of foster children in our county, Shasta, was almost four times that of San Diego County (1.19% vs. 0.31%). We also learned why foster youth struggle more compared to their peers. Many foster children face significant and unique psychological and physiological effects from various forms of trauma. Some youth in foster care, especially in our county, were born with brain abnormalities as a result of their mothers abusing drugs while pregnant. Others, constantly had to transition from moving from home-to-home. Learning about these obstacles solidified that we wanted to obtain our license to become foster parents.
After much hard work, time, and commitment to the process, we eventually earned our foster license and were ready to become foster parents. On January 1st, 2018, we welcomed three siblings into our home. Six months later, on July 11th, 2018, we adopted all three children. It is a lot of work catching our kids up academically and socially, but our hearts are full as we get to pursue our passion and as our love and commitment for our family deepens.Adoption Day, July 11, 2018
While being a foster parent is not for everyone, Aaron strongly encourages anyone who can spare a few hours a month to look into becoming a CASA. For more information, please visit: www.casaforchildren.org