As a recent graduate of Escondido’s San Pasqual Academy who was a foster child with parents who did not go to college, the odds were stacked against Johnathan Owens’ educational plans and his future.
Only 71 percent of foster children earn a high school degree, just 8 percent of them earn a college degree and some 33 percent eventually become homeless, according to numbers crunched by the organization Promises2Kids. Despite those numbers, Owens will begin his higher education journey on Aug. 7 at the San Diego Miramar College, a community college based in the Miramar area of the City of San Diego. He will do so as a Guardian Scholars Award scholarship winner, a $5,000 prize for foster children in San Diego County, which pays for tuition costs of earning of an associate degree, plus other miscellaneous expenses.
The award “includes a scholarship, mentor, case management and other support services for any type of education they wish to pursue — vocational, community college or a four-year university education,” Tonya Torosian, CEO of Promises2Kids, told The Coast News. “Many students also use this funding for basic necessities such as food and transportation. It offers the consistency necessary for youth to reach their educational goals placing them on the path to self-sufficiency for years to come.”
Prior to his winning the Guardian Scholars Award, which is given by Promises2Kids, Owens was a high school Junior Guardian Scholar, a program also run by Promises2Kids. The Junior program provides SAT test support, college application advising and other mentorship opportunities for foster children during high school as part of the college preparation process.
A foster child since age 12, when Owens was separated from his siblings, a press release about him winning the Guardian Scholars Award describes him as someone with advanced technology skills who plans to study in the automotive program at Miramar College.
“Johnathan is a self-taught YouTube guru that learned to build a computer and phone from scratch by watching videos,” reads a press release about Owens’ story provided to The Coast News by the public relations firm Beck Ellman Heald. “He would charge his peers to repair their phones and laptops saving them hundreds of dollars and making a little money for himself. Technology is his passion and the automotive program allows him to work in a field where mechanics and technology combined.”
Owens said that though he is studying in Miramar College’s automotive program, he may also enter the police academy after college when all is said and done. He said he hopes to be an inspiration to other foster children with dreams of going to college, as well.
“I would recommend that they know what they’re talking about, listen to advice and implement it accordingly. It’s also important to know what’s wrong and right,” said Owens. “Relationships were harder to come by through my high school years. If I had stronger relationships things would have been easier for me to overcome challenges.”
Funded by a wide array of corporate sponsors, including San Diego Gas and Electric, Qualcomm, Southwest Airlines, Wells Fargo, Mattress Firm and others, Promises2Kids formerly went by the name Child Abuse Prevention Foundation.
San Pasqual Academy — the high school from which Owens graduated and participated in sports such as track and field, football and basketball — is a “first residential education campus for foster youth in the nation,” according to the school’s website. Money to get the 230-acre campus school of the ground came in the form of $6 million raised by Promises2Kids, according to the organization’s website.
Formerly serving as a Seventh Day Adventist Church, the academy located along Highway 78 in Escondido opened for classes for the first time during the 2001-2002 school year and is administered by the San Diego County Office of Education’s Juvenile Court and Community Schools. It has both a higher high school graduation rate by a magnitude of two compared to foster children nationwide and a higher graduation rate than California at-large.
With a program like Guardian Scholars in place, Torosian said that the organization’s eventual goal “is to be the first city in the United States to ensure that every youth in foster care has access to higher education.”