How Are Schools Responding to Student Homelessness?
Feb 08, 2012
School can be tough enough at times for kids who have a home, a warm bed and economic stability, but what of those who don't? It is estimated that at least one million students across the United States are currently homeless. Is enough being done in schools to handle this growing problem?
According to the U.S. Department of Education, the number of homeless students in public schools rose more than 40% between the 2006-07 and 2008-09 school years alone. The numbers by state are staggering; for instance, Texas saw a 139% increase in student homelessness during that period, with Iowa a close second at 136%.
And the numbers may be even higher, as many people might not readily admit that they have lost their homes and are now living with relatives, in shelters or, worse, on the streets. 'You don't really want a lot of people to know about that,' said John Elliott, supervisor of School Social Workers Services for Chesterfield County Public Schools in Virginia.
Student homelessness is widespread; hardly any area of the country has been untouched by it. It's an unprecedented problem, leaving one to wonder just how schools across the nation are handling this crisis.
Educating the Homeless
In accordance with the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, which is funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, schools must provide homeless students with the same education it would offer any other student. Fortunately, most districts and cities seem to be meeting the challenge.
The Monarch School in San Diego is a public institution open only to homeless K-12 students. Chicago Public Schools works with homeless students through its Students in Temporary Living Situations Office. The Washtenaw Intermediate School District in Ann Arbor, Michigan, established the Education Project for Homeless Youth to make sure these students 'regularly attend and succeed in school', according to the district's website.
But it's not an easy task. Budget cuts and declining federal funds have made it tougher for schools to meet the needs of homeless students. And the growing numbers have made it harder, too; as many as 85% of homeless students now attend school, as compared to 25% at the time the McKinney-Vento Act was passed. Some schools dealing exclusively with homeless students are even filling waiting lists!
An Uphill Battle
The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) outlines other ways in which schools can work with homeless students. Teacher education programs, communicating with parents and working closely with federal-mandated liaisons are among the suggestions NASP makes.
Also, school-to-school communication is crucial. While the McKinney-Vento law states that homeless students must remain in the school they originally attend no matter where their living accommodations are, in some cases students do move to another school. In these situations, the transfer of academic information and records must be maintained.
But in the end, schools can only do so much. To fully combat and even eradicate the reality of student homelessness, a lot has to happen beyond the schools. The economy needs to turn around, jobs need to be created and affordable housing needs to be available again. Stability outside of school may be the only way to truly support stability within the halls of academia.
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