When you don’t know where you’ll sleep, it’s not about attending class that you’re worried about.
For educators, this presents a difficult challenge.
“When families are facing a lack of basic necessities, school is not a priority,” said Suzanne Terry, Homeless Education Services Coordinator for the San Diego County Department of Education. It’s even worse for students who move around a lot, she says. They are the furthest behind.
Like any major metropolitan area, the Pacific Coast city known for its great climate and golden beaches has poverty alongside wealth. In San Diego, by some estimates, The most expensive region in the country According to , in common holiday destinations, about one-tenth of the population lives in poverty. report It was published in late October by the grant donor, the San Diego Foundation. This translates to 86,000 children experiencing poverty.
For students who have difficulty even attending school, this can lead to reduced access to basic education. Housing is not always available, not to mention access to reliable food, transportation to and from school, and other conditions that students must meet to fully immerse themselves in learning, such as internet access and dedicated space for homework. Not.
San Diego Absenteeism Rate — 2021-2022. 30.4% of students are chronically absent, meaning they miss at least 10% of school. Other California metropolises. For homeless students, that percentage is typically higher.
And that challenge is on the minds of many educators in the region, Terry said.
So how are they reacting?
Try the long jump
Some school districts say they are serious about reducing school absence rates among homeless students as a top priority.
The Poway Unified School District in San Diego has more than 35,000 students and statistics show a chronic absenteeism rate of 15.7%. California Department of Education data.
Mercedes Huschmidt, the district’s director of learning support services and homelessness liaison, said the district has made a real concerted effort to ensure students can attend school.
Chronic absenteeism isn’t caused by the same problems for everyone, she says. It’s specific. So to solve this problem, she says, districts need to be mindful of students’ actual needs and carefully plan steps to resolve any hurdles they may face.
how? Poway will create an attendance report and investigate why students are not attending. District officials conduct “home visits” and sit down with families to understand what disabilities they may have. What they learned, Habschmidt said, is that homeless students miss out on things most people take for granted. What’s the most common problem? It’s the physical part of getting kids into the classroom. So school districts manage bus routes, hand out cards for free public transportation, and in some cases even give families gas refunds. Leaders are also working with companies like HopSkip Drive, a ride-share company that shuttles students to and from school.
But Poway is trying many of the same approaches as other San Diego neighborhoods. There are also programs that allow you to stay in a hotel for a limited time to stabilize your housing. Efforts are also being made to provide students with clean clothes, including access to washing machines.
Other school districts in San Diego told EdSurge they are increasing training in trauma-informed care, increasing tutoring for homeless students, and focusing on college and career planning and guidance. Sometimes field trips to college campuses are included.
It is hoped that these solutions will help cover the unique challenges faced by homeless students.
“Post-COVID, I think we all went through different things. And I think things have come up that didn’t exist before, like health, priorities, and access. Our team is focused on making sure kids have what they need to succeed,” says Poway’s Hubschmidt.
Another obstacle is medical care.
Reports by the San Diego Foundation and others cite disparities in who has access to health care as the reason white people in the city live an average of five years longer than black people.
For homeless students, this can mean more untreated illnesses in their families.
Poway tried to adapt. Hubschmidt said the district is using the grant money to distribute her Uber gift cards to students’ families for transportation to doctor’s appointments.
In rural areas, the situation appears to be different.
Kelly Burns, district executive officer for Yavapai Accommodation School District #99, has noticed the ability for staff to connect with students on a personal level.
Her school district is a small school district in central Arizona with only 90 students. Dozens of school district employees provide students with personal phone numbers and give them rides to school. If these students are missing, staff members will call, text, and even come to the student’s home. Burns said staff members even track students’ work.
The extra effort builds one-on-one connections with students, Burns argues. Attendance experts say those relationships can cause students to trudge through the door when they don’t want to. But Burns acknowledged that this probably isn’t practical in metropolitan areas.
During the pandemic, Barnes’ school district saw a surge in the number of chronically unhoused students. In 2020, that rate was over 50%, but it has gradually declined and is now only “slightly higher” than it was before the pandemic, Burns said.
In percentage terms, Yavapai’s number of chronically absent students is actually close to official statistics for urban areas like San Diego. Yavapai’s chronic absenteeism rate is 31.9 percent so far this year, according to figures sent to EdSurge in November.
However, although the number of homeless students in the district is increasing, only about 9 percent of students are chronically absent, Burns reported.
And others in rural areas are noticing similar patterns.
Tina Goer, senior education specialist for rural initiatives at the nonprofit Generation Schools Network, which partners with schools to build “healthy school ecosystems,” says that rural areas are difficult to hide from. He says there are fewer homeless students who are chronically absent.
Rural areas tend to have smaller student populations overall, which allows school districts to really get to know homeless students, she said, specifically reflecting on her own experience in rural schools in Colorado.
What faces more challenges in rural areas, which she knows well, is the provision of social services.
Rural areas rely on connections with large cities and towns to fund social support. When it comes to securing social workers, housing assistance and job training, “that’s a challenge,” Goer said. And the schools Gore works with want that as much as concrete solutions to chronic absenteeism, he said.
play catch up
Yavapai, the school district where Burns works, is an alternative school. The system also only works for high school students, most of whom are far behind in earning credits for graduation, usually by more than a year, Burns said.
It added that these students also tend to be in trouble with the law, are carers, and have physical, emotional or mental problems. As a result, they often don’t have much interest in school.
Burns said about 75% of students who dropped out during the pandemic were too old to return to school.
When the pandemic hit, most of the students took on full-time jobs in fast food, construction, landscaping, etc., Burns said. While the money may seem like good money to students, it can make them reluctant to give up their jobs and go back to school, Burns said. These students tend not to return to obtain a diploma or her GED.
However, other students are also tempted to return.
They face another challenge, Burns said. They often do not have the foundation needed to succeed in the upper grades. They missed a lot of class time. So even if they advance, they now have to deal with the frustration of not learning. This can lead to depression and rebelliousness. Burns said she spends a lot of time trying to get these students up to speed on where they would have ended up if they had stayed in school.
“If kids are told, ‘Just because you’re behind doesn’t mean you’re failing,’ they’re more likely to try to concentrate in school,” Burns says. However, it may ultimately depend on the support system the student has at home.
Are they forever behind? Burns is optimistic. “They can all catch up. We’ll get them there,” she says. It helps that Arizona doesn’t let students leave school until age 22, she added. That way you can buy more time.
Burns said it’s important to show compassion for these students and make connections with them. she tells them: You are not a failure just because you graduated later than you expected when you entered kindergarten. ”