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Former foster child, mother of two, graduates college with PhD

Sade Burrell of San Diego is defying the odds. She grew up in San Diego’s foster care system. She’s a single mom. And now, she’s got a doctoral degree from UCSD.

SAN DIEGO — They’re more likely to be unemployed and on public assistance; if they do work, they make lower wages and are more likely to be arrested.

In California, foster youth are three times as likely to drop out of public K-12 schools at 8% compared to 3% for the rest of the student population. Of those students in the public assistance system, only 58% of foster youth students will graduate from high school. Of those, only 3% will ever get a degree from a 4-year college compared to the general student population, with 33% receiving 4-year degrees.

Sade Burrell of San Diego is defying the odds. She grew up in San Diego’s foster care system. She’s a single mom. And now, she’s got a doctoral degree from the University of California at San Diego

Burrell could very well change the foster care system in California.

Burrell is the second oldest of seven children. She was born in San Diego and grew up in City Heights. She says when the State of California took her and her siblings from their mother and put them in foster care, it forever changed their lives. She says her aunt got them out of foster homes, but then, “I had a social worker pull me out of my aunt's house and put me in Polinsky Children Center, and from the children's center, I went to Juvenile Hall and a group home. And it was because I was labeled as a bad apple. I went to 5 different elementary schools. I went to 1 middle school, and I believe I went to 4 high schools.”

37& of all foster youth drop out of high school. But Sade beat the odds. She got a job, and with the help of the UP program, she started Cuyamaca College.

UP stands for Unlimited Potential—a program for foster and at-risk youth.

When she aged out of foster care, she lived in transitional housing at the YMCA called Turning Point, then went to a home program that supports students from Foster Care. Burrell says, “I worked throughout college. I worked at the YMCA. I coached little 3, 4, and 5 years old in T-ball, soccer, and things like that.”

She got a bachelor’s degree in Social Work from San Diego State. She went on to earn a Masters degree in Social Work from the University of Southern California. “Yeah, I’m a Trojan. Fight on!” She chuckles.

This single mom of 2 has her Doctoral Education in Educational Leadership from the University of California at San Diego.

She says, “I had a village of people who could see I was trying, and they would help me out.”

Those in her village came to see her defend her dissertation at UC San Diego. She showed the academic community the research she did to get her degree. And before the presentation, she prayed with her son and daughter.

She says, “My kids, they get to see it. It's like the cycle of abuse has stopped. I cry when I think about it.”

Her goal now? To improve the lives of kids who find themselves in foster care. To help them get an education. And show them- anything is possible.

“I would say to my youngest self it will be alright. It will be some trials, a lot of tribulations, and many hardships. But you’re going to make it through.”

Currently, Burrell works at San Diego Mesa College and ensures other foster youth with a similar background can get a college education.

She says from here, she will advocate making a college education accessible to all foster youth in California. She says the state of Texas has been doing it for years, making getting a higher education something foster youth can entertain.

WATCH RELATED: San Diego has taken millions in benefits from foster children

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