Giving our most vulnerable children a chance at education

This is part of a blog series that focuses on the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation’s investment in organizations working to improve the experience of children in foster care in Central Texas. In this series, we will highlight how our partners are working to put an end to the cycle of abuse and neglect. You can find the whole series here.

In 2012, the Education Committee submitted a report to the Texas Supreme Court Children’s Commission entitled The Texas Blueprint: Transforming Education Outcomes for Children and Youth in Foster Care.  The report detailed eight guiding principles the Education Committee believes children in foster care need for a successful educational experience. These guiding principles, listed below, are crucial for the success of foster youth. While the number of children and youth in foster care comprise a small number of the total student population in Texas, their difficulties are boundless. These difficulties include, chaotic lives filled with danger and extreme neglect.  Additionally, the educational outcomes for children and youth in foster care are meager compared to the general child population.  These outcomes include higher school suspensions and expulsions, grade repeats, poor attendance, lower scores on state assessments, and higher school dropout rates.

At the University of Texas Charter School, we commit to these eight principles by delivering intensive learning opportunities for vulnerable children in pre-kindergarten through the 12th grade across the state of Texas.  We are currently serving students in 23 locations in the Central Texas and the Houston areas. We are the district of choice for students who are unable, for a period of time, to benefit from a traditional school setting.


Our mission is to provide access to effective educational opportunities for unique learners by creating safe environments and holding high expectations for all. It’s not always feasible for a student to remain in his or her school, so our district specializes in serving them in unique settings, such as psychiatric hospitals and residential treatment centers. School is brought to them until they are ready to return to public school.

Our impact

Our district has been in operation for over 18 years. During this time, we have educated over 20,000 vulnerable children. When we receive juniors and seniors into our high school program, our main goal is to ensure they graduate.  Data from the last three years show we have graduated 169 vulnerable youth from our high school program.  Twenty-two of these graduates were in foster care.  Each year we are determined to see our graduation rates grow.

Source: University of Texas Charter School

And we have no plans to stop.  This year alone, we opened three additional locations supporting different groups of vulnerable children.  Next year, we are opening a school with The Refuge in Austin which will provide support to children who have been victims of sex trafficking.

Strength in numbers

We cannot do this work alone.  We are further strengthened by our collaboration with exceptional partners in a variety of sectors.  Among our many partners, we are especially proud of our work with the Travis County Collaborative for Children (TCCC).  The TCCC is a network of over 35 partner organizations that have joined forces to transform the model of care for foster children, and dramatically improve their lives and outcomes. Together we are ensuring that Trust-Based Relational Interventions (TBRI) are being used consistently in our schools.

It really does take a village to help our most vulnerable children.  There is no one quick fix, magic pill or treatment or silver bullet.  It takes hard, dedicated work from people and organizations who are willing to put in the time and energy needed to make a difference. Working hand in hand, our goal is to make that difference – right here in Texas – for our children. Because every child deserves a chance at a better education, a better circumstance, a better life.  And we are here to deliver it.

Dr. Melissa Chavez is the Associate Vice President of The University of Texas at Austin in the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement. With over 20 years of experience in K-12 education and higher education, Dr. Chavez also serves as the superintendent of the University of Texas Charter School System.

Other blogs in the series:

Improving the experience of the most vulnerable children in Central Texas

Keeping Central Texas children safe

Caring for our most vulnerable children in Central Texas

From data to action: Supporting Central Texas youth as they age-out of foster care

Caring for our caregivers: Investing in our children in Central Texas

Families matter in the child welfare system