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audience at the symposiumThe voices and views of current and former foster and homeless youth were in the spotlight at LACOE’s “Piecing it Together” symposium held May 23 in Alhambra.

The annual event drew more than 300 participants to learn best practices for meeting the needs of students in foster care or experiencing homelessness.

More than 100,000 of these youth reside in Los Angeles County.

Keynoter and successful attorney Miles Cooley spent several years in the foster care system and lived for a time in the Sacramento Children’s Home.

Cooley discussed how tough times and bad experiences provided the “rocket fuel and Teflon” for his resiliency and motivation to believe “there could be a different outcome for me.”

He encouraged participants to help youth “aim big” and draw strength from their struggles.

Former foster youth Jaci said, “it’s the little things that make a difference … any glimpse of hope we can get we hold onto it.”

Speaker Alicia Cass inspired participants with her life story of overcoming homelessness, abuse and gang involvement to become a doctoral student at the University of Southern California.

Likening her transformation to that of a butterfly after it emerges from its cocoon, Cass founded the nonprofit Metamorphosis Experience to help change lives.

A panel of students discussed how being homeless or in foster care affected their ability to succeed in school and how they can best be supported in achieving their goals. The youngest, a sixth grader, had the simple message that educators need to make sure kids are going to school and continue to follow up.

LACOE Superintendent Debra Duardo opened the event with a message about the importance of developing a trauma-informed approach in schools. She discussed how LACOE is building partnerships and leveraging resources to enhance mental health and other needed services in public schools countywide.

(Read Duardo’s commentary in L.A. School Report, “Foster youth and homeless students need stable schools,” here.)

“We know this work cannot be done in isolation,” said Jennifer Kottke, LACOE’s Homeless Education coordinator. “Our team works hard all year to ensure this event highlights the needs of youth and inspires collaborative solutions.”

Organized by LACOE’s Student Support Services Division, the symposium also featured 35 presenters and 16 workshops on a range of topics and themes focused on improving educational outcomes for foster and homeless youth.

Photos -- clockwise from top left: Keynoter Alicia Cass speaks with a participant about her organization, the Metamorphosis Experience; LACOE Supt. Debra Duardo with former foster youth Jaci; a packed house at one of the 16 workshops offered at the Piecing it Together symposium held May 23 in Alhambra.

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