County program helping foster kids already showing results

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RENO, Nev. (KOLO) Like so many foster kids, getting through school was not easy for Nikole and Christina Lowry. Last week, though, the sisters graduated from high school – a place that not too long ago there was no guarantee they would be.

“When I started seeing the differences, that’s when it clicked,” Nikole said.

“My counselor told me that I was on track to graduate and I would not have been if it wasn’t for the program," Christina remarked.

The program she is referring to is called “Achievements Unlocked.” It's a program started by the Washoe County Department of Social Services.

“It’s dependent on the child, there is no cookie cutter amount that they get or don’t get,” said Washoe County Social Services Director Amber Howell.

The national average for foster kids graduating by 18 is about 50%, but this program has outdone that, reaching a number of 75% for this past year.

That degree of improvement came as a surprise to many, including Judge Egan Walker.

“I’m stunned,” Walker said. “If you had asked me to prognosticate, I would have said you might get an extra 5%. Changing that number to having 75% of foster kids graduate - which is as high as the rate of every other kid in this district right now - is worth its weight in solid gold.”

Making that much of difference only comes with hard work. The Lowry sisters, like other foster kids, got on track to graduate with help from tutors and 2 education advocates who oversee 15 students each.

One of those advocates is Kelly Jesch, who explains why foster kids can have trouble in school.

“Foster youth have so many transitions,” she says. “There are so many opportunities for them to fall through the cracks of the system. For staff to not know who they are or for teachers to not understand the kind of living situation they are in.”

It was the understanding of those things, combined with extra effort, which got the Lowry sisters to the stage at Lawlor Events Center last week, to be part of Reed High School’s class of 2017.

For more on the Achievements Unlocked program, click here

Achievements Unlocked is seeking program partners to sustain their work beyond 2017. For more information, contact Keri Pruitt at