RANCHO SANTA FE — Sofia is a shining example of why the Friends of San Pasqual Academy work so hard making sure foster kids have a place to live and an excellent school to attend.
Sofia graduated from the academy in 2003. She was valedictorian.
She then graduated Phi Beta Kappa Honors Society from UCSD having earned a bachelor’s degree in political science in international relations and a minor in Russian and Soviet studies.
She is currently pursuing her jurist doctorate degree at the USD School of Law and is hoping to also be admitted to the university’s International Master of Business Administration program.
“I feel very grateful to have been placed at San Pasqual Academy. I honestly do not believe that I would be where I am today if it were not for all the caring staff and incredible donors to help me along the way,” she said.
Typical of most foster kids, she was removed from her home by the courts because of abuse or neglect and was put into the system though no fault of her own. She moved many times, forcing her to attend many different schools.
“I did not have one ounce of self-esteem after being told every single day for years that I was a waste and would never amount to anything,” she said. “The staff at San Pasqual Academy encouraged me to apply for college and informed me about the different funding options.”
She said she did hit some speed bumps along the way, but the academy was there with words of encouragement and financial support when she needed it.
“I get very emotional often thinking how far I have come and just being in utter disbelief that this is me,” she said. “This is what I am doing with my life.”
Sofia’s career goal is to become an attorney in the corporate department of a global law firm specifically to advise corporations in mergers and acquisitions relating to trade and commerce abroad.
And the Friends of San Pasqual Academy are as proud of her as if she were their own child.
“Once you meet these kids, you are forever touched by their resilience and who they are,” said Joan Scott, one of the founders of the “friends” group.
“We are like the PTA for the school,” Scott said. “We provide extra art things, music things — when the budget is tight, as parents you have to supplement programs. We do the same thing for these kids.”
Recently they held a banquet for the kids to award letterman jackets and recognition for good grades. San Diego Charger Quentin Jammer and his wife Alicia were on hand, handing out the jackets.
“We pretty much do for them what we would do for our own kids,” she said.
The San Pasqual Academy was founded in 2001 in Escondido, as a residential high school for foster children. Although funded by the state like every other school, it is the first of its type and many other programs have been modeled after its very successful program.
The academy’s graduation rate is 97 percent.
“That is unheard of for foster kids,” Scott said. “Having graduated from high school is an accomplishment.”
“The success stories have been unbelievable,” she said. “These kids have really made it a point to work hard and make school a priority. A lot of them are the first in their family to graduate from high school.”
She said some of the 10th-graders had already gone to four or five high schools.
“You can imagine having to move every few months and transfer schools,” she said. “Some of our kids did not attend school for years. They were usually old enough to stay home and take care of siblings and were not allowed to go to school. You can imagine how far behind they are when they arrive,” she said.
If they choose to continue their education, the Friends group helps them find funding, and supplements them heavily to help pay for tuition, books, dorm needs and other necessities, she said.
“We find grants for them,” she said. “We exhaust every possible funding source. They are also expected to work part time.”
The Friends have established a scholarship fund for each of the graduating classes and help many of the students.
“We have many at Palomar, Mesa, Grossmont and MiraCosta,” she said. “We have a lot at Cal State San Marcos, San Diego State, San Francisco State and UC Davis.
“We monitor them, we keep in touch. It is really hard for them because when they graduate, their support system is taken away and they have to earn a living and provide for food, shelter and transportation.
“They pretty much have to face reality very quickly a soon as they graduate, but they are still supported by the friends,” she said.
The Friends of San Pasqual was founded shortly after the school opened by three Rancho Santa Fe residents — Joan Scott, Kathy Lathrum and Carole Markstein.
Scott said her parents, Bill and Donna Herrick, had been involved with foster children for 30 years and for Christmas purchased gift cards for the children.
“My sister, Kathy Lathrum, and I went out and did a little holiday party and gave out the gift cards,” she said. “When we left that afternoon, we decided we have got to do something for these kids and not forget them.”
The two women began talking to their friend Carole Markstein about what they could do to help.
They decided the best thing to do for them was to become surrogate parents and give them the support a parent would give to their children, both financially and emotionally.
Their first event was a prom at the Hotel De Coronado. Shortly after they put on a graduation brunch and the graduation ceremony. They had about four graduates at the time.
“Since then it has just escalated,” she said. “We are up to over 140 kids. We have nine transitional kids who have graduated and who are furthering their education in trade school, junior college or a four year university.”
The school has about 25 graduates a year now and many people and organizations, like the National League, step in to lend a hand.
“When they graduate we provide laptop computers. In our society that is a good tool to have. You can’t even apply for a job without a computer. We help them with towels, sheets, kitchen items and gift cards because they are leaving their home,” she said.
Scott said the community has been “unbelievably supportive,” of the young students.
There is a basic board of six board members, but as many has 500 people have turned out at different times to help raise funds.
“We have so many wonderful people in the community and saw how much they did for their children, and their children’s schools,” she said.
To learn more about the San Pasqual Academy or the Friends of San Pasqual, visit www.friendsofspa.org or call (885) 759-3298.