Create a Culture of Caring
Students experiencing homelessness often face overwhelming challenges. By definition, homeless students lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence. Whether students are staying temporarily with family or friends – or staying in a shelter, motel, or car – their situation is tentative. Students may have to move from place to place and change schools frequently. They may not have access to school supplies, clean clothes, food, or other necessities. Add to that the stigma of being homeless and it’s no wonder that these vulnerable students struggle to achieve in school. In fact, data shows that homeless students have more absences, lower grades and test scores, and reduced graduation rates.
However, when students experiencing homelessness feel welcomed and supported, school becomes a safe haven where they flourish and thrive. Below are strategies to create a school culture of caring that will support students experiencing homelessness.
- Raise awareness among all school staff about the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act. This act requires school districts to remove barriers to the identification, enrollment, stability, and success of children and youth experiencing homelessness.
- Connect the student and their family to the school district homeless liaison. The homeless liaison can help ensure the student is receiving school services such as transportation to and from school and free school meals. The liaison can also refer the family to outside agencies for resources such as food, clothing, medical care, basic hygiene, and shelter.
- Be sensitive and understanding with language. Avoid using the word “homeless” when speaking with students and families, and use terms like “temporary housing” or “McKinney-Vento” instead. Speak to students and families about housing and other needs privately, and keep all information confidential.
- Understand how trauma and stress impact learning and behavior. Trauma and chronic stress activate the fight, flight, or freeze response and interfere with attention, memory, cognitive thinking, and self-regulation. Teaching social/emotional skills helps to mitigate the negative impact of trauma and stress.
- Form positive relationships with students and families. Students are primed to learn when they feel safe, connected and supported at school.
For more information on how to support students experiencing homelessness join us on Sep. 26th for McKinney-Vento 101.
Supporting the Success of Homeless Children and Youths, Fact Sheet: https://www2.ed.gov/policy/elsec/leg/essa/160315ehcyfactsheet072716.pdf
CDE Homeless Education web page: http://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/hs/
National Center for Homeless Education: https://nche.ed.gov/
SchoolHouse Connection: https://www.schoolhouseconnection.org/
National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth: https://naehcy.org/
Program Coordinator, Homeless and Foster Youth Services
San Luis Obispo County Office of Education