For a child from a homeless family, school is a critical anchor point in life. To homeless students in the most severe circumstances, school may provide:
For at risk students from a homeless family that is still partially intact, with a caring adult, school still provides a place where she can feel normal:
For a child who is drifting from couch to couch (or floor to floor, the case with some students I have known) public school is their home for 6 hours a day, and it's a home that can provide enough to get them through the other 18 hours.
And don't think that the benefits listed above apply only at the elementary level. Middle and high school at risk students have just as much need for the benefits of school...they just express it differently. Were you ready to live on your own successfully at age 15? I was barely able to handle that when I turned 18 and still had the support of my parents! Kids today are no different.
Many people play a role in the success of homeless students:
There are national organizations who are standing by to raise awareness and help. See the web links page.
The services listed above are critical for success, but make no mistake:
The classroom teacher is the key to closing the achievement gap for these children. You are the key. And that's what this Teachers Homeless Student Action Center is all about.
Key to what? Nothing less than the child's or youth's future.
Do we want these homeless children of today to be homeless adults just a few short years in the future? Of course not. But to have the best chance at avoiding that fate, they need the number one thing that teachers provide: Knowledge. And that falls squarely within our job description.
But there's good news. Recognizing a homeless family situation and getting services started takes some specialized attention up front, but after that...you just do what you do best: treat all of your students how they want (and deserve) to be treated. And how do they want to be treated? Like everyone else.
Part of feeling normal at school is not standing out. This becomes increasingly important as homeless children grow older and they become more and more aware of social differences.
So your classroom community is the key to your success, whether you have the kids all day in elementary school or one hour at a time in high school. That's not to say that you shouldn't keep an observant eye out for any issues...but when you get right down to it, that's what great teachers do for all kids anyway.
The need for teacher awareness is growing. As you'll on the overview, history and stats page, the homeless family (and consequently the homeless student) trend is increasing, while resources are not keeping pace; less than one in five school districts nationally received any support through any federal funding source.
The law is on the side of the homeless family; accommodations and services are federally mandated (even though federal funding may not keep pace with the need). Not all schools or districts are fully compliant with their obligations in this area. Sometimes this is due to funding, sometimes to unfamiliarity with a homeless family problem that has scarcely existed in their area in the past.
Regardless of the level of knowledge or capacity in your local school district, we can do our part as teachers to overcome - or at least mitigate - the effects of homelessness. This Teachers Homeless Student Action Center gives you all the tools you need. Let's not let any child slip through the cracks.
Let's give every child, no matter their living situation, the best opportunity the American public school system can provide.
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The Homeless Student Article Directory
Direct links to ALL homeless student articles on this site
Homeless Children in America
Overview of a tragedy: numbers and history
Homeless Students and Federal Laws
Homeless benefits and teacher obligations
Homeless Student Questions and Answers
Quick answers to the most-common educator questions
Homeless Student Resources on the Web
Organizations devoted to vulnerable children