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Schools Teaching Higher Numbers of Homeless Students

September 30, 2008 10:00 AM
by Lindsey Chapman
School districts around the country are learning how to cope with more homeless students in their classrooms.

“Waiting for a hurricane”

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From Oregon to Massachusetts, U.S. schools are finding higher numbers of homeless students on their rosters than in the past.

In North Carolina, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools have seen a 35 percent increase in their homeless population in two years. Annabelle Suddreth, who directs a nonprofit organization to help homeless students and their families, said the housing crisis and economic struggles will likely push that number higher.

“It’s sort of like waiting for a hurricane,” Michael Stoops, acting executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless, told The Charlotte Observer. “We know it’s coming. It’s just a matter of when.”

Sue Runkle, a Montana homeless education liaison, has seen the number of kids in her program more than double since last year. The majority are in kindergarten through sixth grade; probably because younger children are often more willing to talk about their circumstances, and they generally have just one teacher a day, which makes them easier to spot.

Regardless of why homeless students come to them, educators know they can offer something important to these youngsters: stability and a chance to stop their homeless problem from continuing. “That’s what’s going to break the cycle of homelessness, is education,” Runkle said in a Billings Gazette article. “I don’t want them to give up.”

Challenges Schools Face

Educating homeless students can put a financial strain on schools that don’t know when to expect them. In Massachusetts, officials are seeking outside help to manage the additional expenses. “Our problem is we get no money from the state [for the homeless students], and beyond that we don't have a lot of space,” Chelmsford, Mass., Superintendent Donald R. Yeoman told the Boston Globe. Budgets are set and teachers are hired by the beginning of the school year, making unexpected students who may need special services hard to handle financially.

Federal law mandates that homeless children be allowed to attend the school they went to before becoming homeless, or to attend a school in the area where they presently live. Schools must also waive fees and offer transportation for these children.

The McKinney-Vento Act Homeless Education Program and the No Child Left Behind Act help provide some of the resources needed to teach homeless students.

Reference: National Coalition for the Homeless

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