This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Shuttled among foster homes, Chalisha Clemens spent her childhood bouncing from neighborhood to neighborhood and school to school. Student mobility is one factor that works against students seeking to complete college. And a recent national report found that only 2 percent of foster children attain a degree by age 25.
She attended three middle schools, including a charter, and three high schools, including a cyber school. That ended when a family member took her school-issued computer and sold it.
Drifting, she spied an ad on a bus one day for YouthBuild Philadelphia Charter School, a school for 18- to 21-year-olds who need a few credits to graduate. They spend a year, earning a diploma and a trade. She was 20.
“I thought, I’m getting too old not to be in school. I didn’t think they’d accept me because of my age. I’m not sure why I got accepted, but I did.”
There, she latched onto a supportive community and received her diploma in August 2015. She has been attending Community College of Philadelphia part-time, mostly remedial courses, but said she passed out of them and will be taking credit-bearing courses in the fall – all while working in Target and caring for her elderly grandmother. She has been accepted by Temple University’s dual enrollment program as she pursues a bachelor of arts degree in early childhood education.
YouthBuild saved her, Clemens said. “They really fight for their students; it’s more of a family environment,” she said. “They want you to grow as individuals. They want you to be better. They help you find clothes, meals. It’s really a family support system.” People at YouthBuild still track her progress and serve as mentors.
Clemens said that young people deserve a second chance. “A child doesn’t have control over their past, but once they are a certain age, they have every right to change their life around.”
Will she achieve her goals?
“I try every day.”