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Event honors foster kids who beat odds to graduate

FRIDAY, JUNE 6, 2008

Dyzyray Mirelez is headed to Eastern Washington University on a four-year scholarship after she graduates from North Central High School on Saturday. It’s the first step in her plan to become a broadcast journalist.

Normal dreams for a 19-year-old?

Perhaps, but for Mirelez, the path has been rockier than for most. Her father’s death when she was an infant was followed shortly by the death of her baby sister. She thinks the second death was just too much for her mother, who left her family when Mirelez was in grade school.

The youngest of five, Mirelez and her siblings fended for themselves for a while and then moved in with their aunt. Though their house was always filled with family, Mirelez said she sometimes longed for the more “normal” lives her high school friends took for granted.

“I didn’t get a chance to do everything they did,” she said before a luncheon Thursday to recognize Spokane foster kids who are graduating from high school. “I’d be so thankful to have what they have.”

Mirelez is one of 21 Spokane County foster kids and more than 350 statewide who will graduate from high school or receive their General Educational Development certificates this year. For many, that accomplishment is elusive. In Washington, only about 40 percent of foster children graduate from high school or receive a GEDs. That’s compared with an overall statewide graduation rate of 72 percent, according to the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Several programs exist statewide to help more foster kids graduate from high school and go on to college or vocational training. The Independent Living Program helps foster children gain the skills to live on their own, offering help when it comes to landing jobs, furthering their education, finding safe housing and managing budgets.

The Educational and Training Voucher Program provides as much as $5,000 a year up to age 23 for higher education. Other programs provide mentoring and support to help ensure success in post-secondary education.

In 2001, then-Gov. Gary Locke established the Governor’s Scholarship to help foster kids enroll in state colleges. The scholarships can be used for as long as five years, as long as students keep their grades up and enroll full-time. The scholarships range from $1,000 to $5,000 a year, depending on need. About 30 Governor’s Scholars are selected statewide every year.

“They’re very hard to get,” said Heidi Peterson, program director for Spokane’s Independent Living program, run by Volunteers of America. “Only two kids on this side of the state received them this year.”

Those two kids are Mirelez and 18-year-old Minh Layne, who will graduate from Riverside High School today.

Layne’s life on a farm with his foster mother and three foster brothers led to his desire to become a veterinarian. He’ll enter Washington State University in the fall to study preveterinary medicine.

Layne said his biological mother was very young when he was born and didn’t have the means to raise him. However, Layne said, he sees his mother regularly and has a good relationship with her.

“I’m actually thankful for what she did,” Layne said. “I was placed in a good home with a good foster parent who raised me well.”


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