Wheels-in-MotionThere was a short paragraph in fourth grade. A rhyming poem in sixth grade. A five-page narrative in eighth.

I have no idea how many writing assignments I have written in the past decade about foster care, but there have been many. I have never been a foster child myself, but my sister Teenasia’s journey has been the family’s journey, too.

From the first time I welcomed her into our home when I was 8, to her adoption just last year when she was 9, this slow, difficult process my sister went through has defined what I do and how I think.

Above all, my family’s experience with foster care has made me more aware of the world around me. Ever since my family became ethnically and racially diverse, I have been on a constant, subconscious search for equivalent diversity.

I was lucky enough to find a high school that has exactly what I was looking for. Dominican’s racial and ethnic makeup is fantastically similar to America’s – mostly white with large black and Hispanic populations and with a significant number of Asian Americans.

I have classes with people from a variety of ethnic, cultural and economic backgrounds, which is the way all education should be.

I can’t explain why this is important to me, but I’d like to think that it is thanks to my minority sisters that I am so aware and appreciative of the great mixture of people at my school.

For the same reason, I almost always notice racial uniformity when it’s present.

At a government simulation conference called Badger Boys State in Ripon this summer, for example, I couldn’t help but be a little disappointed about how many people looked so much like me. There were only a handful of African-American students out of the hundreds of boys at the camp, and even fewer other non-white ethnicities.

Granted, one of these few minorities became the governor of the conference, the highest position possible, but it was clear that the real Wisconsin was not being represented. I am not sure I would have been aware of that if my sisters had not joined my family.

Foster care has brought countless other problems to my attention as well. It has put a picture in my mind to go with so many of the topics we hear about on the news and read about online. I know what poverty and hunger can do to a person. I have seen firsthand how deep the scars of abuse run. I am more aware of drug abuse, of violence, of neglect. I have seen it through the eyes of my sister.

Now that I am aware, I have put myself in the position where I can find my place, act on my worries and, in some way, help our country deal with these enormous problems.

So happy first anniversary of your adoption, Teenasia. Thanks for everything.

(Jacob, a Dominican High School, Whitefish Bay, senior is the eldest of the four Scobey-Polacheck children.)