Brandon Foster found himself adrift in a juvenile detention center aged 14 after being caught trying to break into a cell phone store. Some of the young men were just biding their time until they turned 18, when they would be transferred to a prison to serve long sentences. To avoid this fate, Foster took the recommendation of a social worker and became a ward of the state of Indiana.
At 16, Foster was sent to a group home on the outskirts of his hometown of Fort Wayne, Indiana, where he found role models and mentors. He raised his GPA, graduated from high school, and applied to college. Inspired by both Rita Whitman, an English teacher who praised his way with words and his writing skills, and Fletcher Upshaw, who ran the group home and pushed him to dream big, Foster decided to become a teacher. . And now he’s studying to be a principal at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
“Having had a great teacher and an incredible mentor, I thought I could be both a teacher and a mentor for young kids, especially young black men who might have gotten into trouble,” Foster said. who worked as a teacher for eight years in schools around Texas. “I remember thinking that I would like to be there for other students, just like Mrs. Whitman and Mr. Upshaw were there for me, because if they hadn’t helped me, I wonder where I would be.
Foster’s journey from the juvenile justice system to pursuing a doctorate in educational leadership is a story of perseverance, hard work, and embracing a sense of larger purpose.
“At the heart of my dream is to help people,” Foster said. “Anything is possible if you think about it. We have more power than we think.
Each year, approximately 2 million young people under the age of 18 are arrested and charged with a delinquent or criminal act and processed through the juvenile justice system. Success stories like Foster’s aren’t that common and can serve as inspiration for students and teachers, but they can also provide lessons to help students who are struggling in school.
Drew Echelson, Faculty Director of the Doctor of Education Leadership Program, met Foster when he applied to the program and was struck by Foster’s courage, drive, intelligence and penchant for innovative ideas. Echelson is an assistant superintendent at Boston Public Schools and works closely with Foster, who, in his second year at Harvard, is doing his internship hours as he pursues his license to become a superintendent.
“Brandon thinks about solutions to issues facing K-12 educators in creative and thoughtful ways, and really outside the box,” Echelson said. “He currently works for Boston Public Schools on strategies to help students who have dropped out return to school. He always brings thoughtful and courageous ideas that in some ways stem from his own personal and professional experience.
For Upshaw, the director of the group home, seeing Foster’s accomplishments reaffirms his belief that children can thrive if they have the support and attention of caring adults.
“Brandon was like a flower growing in the middle of a highway that was driven and bypassed and survived,” said Upshaw, executive director of Neighborhood Mentoring Academy Inc., a nonprofit he founded. to run group homes for young people.
“He definitely had the skills and the talent, and once he realized people cared about him, he had the determination to really go for it,” he said. “My job was to just push him, hold him accountable and basically not allow him to fail. This is the attitude that works for Brandon.
As an educator, Foster can have a significant impact on the lives of many children, Upshaw said. “He wants to help young people, and he’s not ashamed to tell his story because his story can inspire others to follow in his footsteps,” he said. “He put himself in a position to help others and give them the opportunity to try to improve their lives.”
Foster’s passion for education has been recognized by the African American Educational History and Records Program, which awarded him the title of Outstanding Educator of the Year 2018. While he is Busy with classes on race, strategic finance for nonprofits, professional leadership, and superintendent residency at Harvard, Foster knows his life story also provides valuable lessons.
“I always tell my students that they have the power to make the wrong decision as well as the right decision,” said Foster, who will graduate in May 2023. “I also tell them that they should never stop dream above their life circumstances because in the darkest times, that dream will light the way.
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