From Foster Care To College, Part Two: An Uphill Climb

Jun 12, 2013

Credit Christine Jessel

Last September, Briyana Dunn was enrolled at Pellissippi State Community College through a Department of Children's Services program for former foster care kids.

"I started from A and right now I feel like I’m all the way on like R - I’m getting to my Z," she said then.

But it didn’t work out. Briyana says she spiraled into a depression after a hard breakup with a boyfriend. She stopped turning in assignments - then she started missing classes.

"It was too late in the year to be like, oh, I want to drop these classes," she says.  "I just stopped going and it was like- three weeks before school ended when I stopped going - I just couldn’t get out of the bed anymore, I just refused."

Briyana pulled herself together for another semester. Then she got fired from her job, and she’d already spent all her financial aid money.

"I had to choose between eating or going to school. So I just had to drop out and just stay depressed about it. So when I talk about school it’s like ehhh," she says.

If Briyana could weather another semester on her own, she could re-qualify for tuition assistance. She got a job and says she’s been saving up to go back. But the promise sounds hollow - and she admits she’s not really looking forward to it.

"School is just like AUGH. I mean, nobody wants to go to school, like AUGH school!"   Dunn says. "I think it’s cause it’s something that I failed in, you know, like, it’s not necessarily that I failed - but I failed. And you know I didn’t take advantage of what I could have - like come on! I had people paying for my school! And I failed the semesters twice!"

When she was still in college, Briyana thought she wanted to be a neonatal nurse. She says she’s on her fourth career path now, from law, to nursing, to neonatal nursing, to program assistant. She started working with babies in a Child and Family Services program in Knoxville in March, and she loves it.

"My job can’t get no better than this," she says, "unless I was literally getting paid to do nothing, then my job can’t get no better ... this is it for me."

So despite her setbacks, Briyana says she’s doing okay. After all, she still has an apartment and a job she loves. She’s looking forward to eventually getting a car and some new furniture - maybe even a puppy. There’s only one thing she says that college degree might get her:

"Money," she says. "When I didn’t have a job it just made me have an ambition to earn money; sometimes I am so exhausted at work, I am so sleepy at work, it’s like I smile through it because I’m like yes, I have a job I don’t care I’m working!"

And Briyana says she learned from foster care to focus on the positive. She says she’s turning 21 soon, and that’s when she loses any DCS assistance she’s getting. But until then, Briyana says she plans to take full advantage of anything else the program offers.

"All have to do now is just tell myself you’re about to be an a adult - get-it-together-get-it-together. And I’m doing ok now," she adds.

And that’s pretty much Briyana’s outlook on life. She may not be exactly where she wants to be - but then again, she says, look at how long it took to get to where she is. The road ahead could be just as hard - but it could also be just as full of possibilities.