Fostering excellence: From underachievers to college-bound scholars

(CBS News) NOVATO, Calif. - If there was an election for role models of the year, we know who'd get our vote. So we met them, on the road, in California's Bay Area.

Brittney Edmondson, one of the Asprers' foster children, is graduating from high school and heading to college. CBS News

It is a day 18-year-old Brittney Edmondson thought she'd never see. As a foster child, she finished her freshman year with a 0.00 GPA and just didn't care. And yet here she is four years later graduating from Novato High School, near San Francisco, with honors and going to college.

What changed? She got the right foster parents -- Roy and Claudia Asprer.

"They told me as long as you do what I tell you to do, you will go to college," said Brittney. "And now here I am. I'm going to college."

Typically, if you're a foster kid, college is a pipe dream. Only about a 3 percent of foster kids go to college. But your odds can improve dramatically if you're given one distinct advantage -- a chance to live with Claudia and Roy.

Over the last 15 years, the Asprers have taken in 90 foster children in addition to their own four. All the kids are loved. But it is the older teenagers who have seemed to benefited from staying with the Asprers. Of the dozen or so who have spent their high school years with the couple, beginning with Marjorie in 1997 ("I graduated with a BA in humanities," she said), virtually all the foster teens that have passed through the house are either in college or have already graduated.

Movin' On Up, a youth-assistance organization founded by Claudia

"Life has totally turned around for me," said Mickey.

"I didn't know what college was when I was in 8th grade," said Sindy.

How did they do it?

Roy and Claudia Asprer have taken in 90 foster children in the last 15 years. Of the older kids, virtually all of them have gone to college or have already graduated. CBS News

"It takes a lot of time," said Claudia. "You have to put in the time helping them with the homework. 'This is how you study for biology.' 'This is how you're going to take your notes.' 'This is how you're going to do flashcards...'"

She went on and on, but it basically boils down to teaching self-disciple and not taking any lip.

"We do have that expectation," said Roy.

Even in the summer, the kids spend hours a day studying, catching up, and no TV. Everyone just focused on the future. Yes, there's still some harping involved, but the Asprers say it's becoming more and more of a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Katie is a high school junior. "It's seeing the other foster kids that have graduated and come back. You know, they visit us and tell us all the stories of college and how great it is and how they're having fun."

Now the only challenge is scheduling all the graduations.

"That's our reward, when they walk, when the graduate, when they feel good about themselves," said Roy.

"It's like a little butterfly," said Claudia. "They're in this little cocoon. They don't look pretty at all, just like crumpled up -- and then all of a sudden, beautiful things come out of it."

Claudia and Roy -- masters of metamorphosis.

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  • Steve Hartman
    Steve Hartman

    Steve Hartman has been a CBS News correspondent since 1998, having served as a part-time correspondent for the previous two years.