ESS 2021: Student in foster care dealt with anger — now she’s in control
September 6, 2021
Kaiyanna Han
Grade: 11 School: William Lyon School District: Orange County Dept. of Ed ACSA region: 17
Kaiyanna Han has faced more challenges than many people do in a lifetime, and it hasn’t stopped her from setting goals and striving to achieve them. She grew up in an unstable home, struggling with poverty and abuse. Beginning at age 12, Kai moved through more than 20 different foster placements, including temporary care, group homes, foster homes and independent transitional housing.
Her awareness and openness about her struggles, including anger issues and trauma, have made a deep impression on the adults who have worked to help Kai gain perspective and remain committed to school. Her strength, bravery and potential to forge her path in life continue to inspire those who hear her story. Kai herself is driven to help others, especially her younger relatives, and give them opportunities and guidance she didn’t have.
What does it mean to win the ACSA Every Student Succeeding award? It means a lot. I was very emotional when I first found out. And I hope that I can use it to influence people younger than me or people my age in the future.
There was nothing easy about what you dealt with. Can you share what your upbringing was like?
I was born in Inglewood. But I was raised in Koreatown, Los Angeles. I didn’t have a mom growing up, so I was raised by a single dad. We lived off welfare, food stamps. He didn’t have a job, so I struggled as a little kid. I also faced abuse. Physical and verbal abuse. And it just got worse as I grew older. So, one day, I had a black eye and I went to school. And my speech and debate teacher saw my eye. Social workers got involved and I got put into the system at 12.
You’ve said you dealt with some anger issues, especially in the foster system. How did the anger manifest itself? When I first got into the system, I was very angry. I was angry because I felt like I was being punished for my parents’ actions. I felt like I was being punished for something I wasn’t in control of. I felt everything was at the hands of people older than me. I had no say in anything. So, I was just very angry for that. That resulted in a lot of fights and expulsions.
What does it mean to you to be in a different place today? It means so much being in control of my emotions. Not a lot of people are capable of doing so. And I feel like my past, my trials and tribulations, I feel like all of that has molded me into the person I am today. I’m very grateful for my experience.
To the students who have gone through similar situations, what would your advice be to them? One would be don’t break away. Don’t go AWOL. You’re just going to end up back in the same place you’re at. You just have to move forward. You can’t stop. It gets better. You just have to be patient.
You’ve moved into transitional housing over the last few months and you’ve told us you’re excited about that. What’s next for you as you continue your journey? I plan on going to the 18 and up program in Fullerton. I plan on going to a two-year community college and then transferring to UCLA. I always wanted to go to UCLA. I always wanted to be in the medical field. And they have a great medical program.
Region 17 2021 ESS Kaiyanna Han.
Region 17 2021 ESS Kaiyanna Han.
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