Teacher by day foster parent by night

Bellevue teachers Kristina Keogh, Patrick Mead and Megan Neelands are changing the lives of kids in need, one boy and girl at a time.

Photo/Mina Dedijer

Kristina Keogh

Senior Jenna Abbassi has been living with teacher Kristina Keogh since this August after her father was permanently hospitalized for an incurable disease. Though Keogh did not need to become a foster parent, she decided to complete the classes and paperwork as the title carries with it financial benefits for college applicants.

The transition from teacher and student to family has been fluid. Living together has made a special bond for the whole family: Carlos (Keogh’s boyfriend), George (Keogh’s biological son), Abbassi and Keogh all live together.  Even though they are not all related by blood or marriage, they are a loving family.

“I have a room. It is my room. As for family, they are my family. I only applied to Washington schools so I can go home regularly,” Abbassi said. Abbassi also has three younger siblings who live in Olympia with a different family. She goes to visit them regularly and they have come to stay with her as well.

Keogh and Abbassi have both gained knowledge from this experience.

“My take away from this experience is that teachers need to assign less homework. The priorities should be coming home, gaining life experience. Sometimes I just want to save Jenna from her homework and tell her to go to bed,” Keogh said.

“The same thing goes to teachers. I see her do a bunch of stuff and it is 10 o’clock and we are sitting on the couch and I wonder, when does she have time to grade papers?” Abbassi said.

Even though the transition has been great, the hardest part to deal with is the system itself. The Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) is disorganized and, frankly, a burden.

“The government makes it really difficult. Our system needs revamping. The government structures are not sufficient,” Keogh said.

“The social workers aren’t helping. They make it very, very hard,” Abbassi said.

Overall, the experience has shown both Keogh and Abbassi that family is what you make it – and you don’t have to be blood-related to form a strong and lasting connection.

Written by Bailey Inama

Patrick Mead

Cindy Cho (CC): What inspired you to start foster parenting?

Patrick Mead (PM): We initially went to an adoption meeting to permanently add a child to our home. But when we were there, we really felt like Jesus wanted us to provide a temporary place of stability, whether that be for a couple of night or several years.

CC: What are some struggles you go through as a foster parent and a teacher?

PM: Fostering is so hard. We were constantly torn between wanting our kids to be reunited with their mom, but not thinking that was the best for their future.  All this, and as a foster parent, we have no say in the outcome.  The judge gets all the say.  With all this turmoil, I had to come to school, ready to teach at a high level.

CC: How has being a foster parent shaped you as a teacher?

PM: I know there are struggles for every student outside the classroom they have to overcome.  I now want  to know more about those things, as hard as they are, so that I can help them be successful in the classroom.

Written by Cindy Cho

Megan Neelands

Cindy Cho (CC): What inspired you to start foster parenting?

Megan Neelands (MN): My husband and I knew we wanted a family and weren’t going to have one conventionally. We decided that adopting a child through the foster system was the best option. As a foster to adopt family, we take long term placements, and become a potential adoptive home if the children aren’t reunited with their birth families.

CC: What are some struggles you go through as a foster parent and a teacher?

MN: Many of the struggles I have are the same as any other parent-teacher. Lack of sleep, scheduling conflicts and finding a work/home life balance are a few. Foster parents struggle with court dates for our children’s cases, meetings with social workers, etc. The most difficult aspect is uncertainty. I could be on leave tomorrow because I got a call tonight to take a placement.

CC: How has being a foster parent shaped you as a teacher?

MN: Being a parent has forced me to leave school at reasonable times. Before, I could get to school at 6, and leave past 4. Now I lock my door at 3:05 so I can spend time with my kid. It’s also been a reminder that students have a lot going on. The hour I see them doesn’t show what’s happening for their other 23 hours.

Written by Cindy Cho

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