The foster family advocate’s longtime director dives into a sensitive topic with a sweet book
Dr. Steve J. Rios has worn many hats in his life.
He was a short-time reporter for the Miami Herald when they were still using that term, he studied political science and taught government at Miami Dade College and research at Florida Atlantic University. He worked for the Miami Dade Early Learning Coalition and started a small business.
But his real life’s work spans three decades — helping children and families in the foster care system in Florida and across the country. Specifically, Rios has worked to bridge the gap between foster children and a quality education.
After earning her master’s degree in political science from Florida Atlantic University, Rios began her doctoral work in adult education and the faith-based sector. As he worked through his studies towards becoming a public speaker, he came across what would later become his passion while doing editing work for a newsletter for a children’s home. in Hialeah.
“After about a year of working with these children and their families, I had become well known to them. I started working for this agency and realized how many foster kids were failing in school,” Rios said. “And I never looked back.”
Rios earned her Ph.D. in Adult Education and Human Resource Development with a thesis titled From host family to college.
Drawing on his 30 years of experience in the field, Rios is adding a new chapter to his life, as the author of a series of children’s books to help children in foster care and adults in their life to better understand their situation. He describes his most recent book, “Oly & Opi: the curious Octopus twins», like a soft book for a sensitive subject. The 14-page illustrated book features a whimsical but important story of twin dumbo octopuses as they navigate their journey through the ‘foster care system’ under the sea.
“I wanted to write a book that does three things,” Rios said. “I want to help little foster children realize that you can have a guardian who looks different from you but who can still love you deeply. I want them to see themselves in a book that draws them in with wonderful animals.
Second, Rios said he wanted to create the book to appeal to other kids who aren’t in foster care, to help them understand the dynamics of different family structures. And third, Rios wanted to give adults an outlet to start conversations with children about foster care and encourage healthy discussions about the natural curiosity that comes with it.
“We explained to the children that the mother octopus had to go and we talked about the different personalities of the twin octopuses,” said Cecilia Palavecino, manager of the Global Field Academy enrichment center and the Montessori workshop, where the children children read on Oly and Opi during the last day of school recently. “We also talked about the importance of listening to others with Dr. Rios’ second book, Please let me do the talking. And then one of the students told everyone what she knew about octopuses.
Rios draws inspiration for the book from his many years of working with children, families, and outside influences through Educate Tomorrow, a Miami Beach-based nonprofit organization. With Educate Tomorrow, he is the Senior Director of Positive Pathways, a Florida Department of Children and Families program dedicated to helping young adoptees succeed academically.
Throughout her years working at both agencies, Rios recognized the need to address the lack of confidence and motivation foster children had that sometimes hindered their ability to take advantage of educational opportunities.
Rios hopes that the adventures of Oly and Opi in his current and future books will help young foster children develop a sense of belonging and hope.
“The State of Florida offers free tuition for foster children up to age 28, but many foster children don’t even graduate from high school,” said he declared. “I hope these books will be another way for me to help improve children’s lives through education.”
Dr. Steve J. Rios will host a book signing for “Oly & Opi: The Curious Octopus Twins” from 11 a.m. to noon on July 9 at the Miami-Dade Main Public Library, 101 West Flagler St., Miami. The book is also available at Amazon in electronic and paper format. For more information, visit www.deepseamedia.org.
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