BULVERDE, Texas – For an abused or neglected child, survival is their focus and education often takes a back seat. By the time they get to a safe home in foster care, they've fallen far behind.
"We have kids that get here — maybe they're in sixth grade and they've been to 12 schools. Many times, (we get) a 15- or 16-year-old that can't read or reads on a first-grade, second-grade level," said Tara Roussett, CEO of SJRC Texas, formerly known as St. Jude's Ranch for Children.
Foster children from birth to 21 years old can stay at SJRC as long as they need. Most kids living at the Bulverde location are middle and high school age. In August, they began attending SJRC's brand new school on the property.
"The school is through the University of Texas Charter School System. We're a fully accredited school. They have locations all across Texas. They hire the teachers. They vet the teachers. The teachers are all trained in trauma-informed care," Roussett said.
Roussett said the students are building life-changing confidence in the stress-free learning environment, surrounded by kids just like them.
"If they're not ready to go back into the public school setting, they can revert back to negative behaviors. They're not bad kids, but sometimes for some kids, it's a lot easier to act bad. Then (they) admit, 'I'm in 9th grade and can't read, so I'm going to disrupt the class instead,'" she said.
The kids are thriving at SJRC's school, but the building has restrictions.
The school is inside the property's single-room chapel. Dividers separate four different classrooms that hold about 40 students a day.
"We have a request out for funding to build our school. It will have six classrooms, a commercial kitchen, and a rec room. It's looking like it's about $1.5 million," Roussett said.
Help from the public can lead the kids toward independence and possibly help break the cycle of violence.
"They love to learn. We teach them here. Their education is one thing that cannot be taken away from them. What they learn is theirs forever," Roussett said.
Any donation is welcome, including rights to name a classroom or even the whole building.
Donation steps can be found on the organization's website, which has information about the ranch and its school.