Title: How Improved Teacher Development Can Help Identify and Support Students Experiencing Homelessness
Date: Wednesday, August 14, 2019, 1:00 – 2:15PM ET
[Certificate of Attendance available upon completion]
For many students experiencing homelessness, school is the only place of stability in their life. Like many other support staff, teachers play a crucial role in creating a classroom environment that is safe and supportive for all students, especially those who are highly mobile and have experienced the trauma that often accompanies homelessness. It is therefore critical to provide teachers with comprehensive training and professional development to help them better identify and support the academic success of homeless students. In this webinar, two school of education professors will share their best practice strategies for training both pre-service teachers and those in the field to improve identification practices and supportive services for McKinney-Vento eligible students.
This piece by Homeless Education Liaison Sue Lenahan is the first in a series of blog posts that, in five questions, captures some of the most pressing challenges, inspiring triumphs, and innovative strategies experienced and implemented by practitioners supporting students experiencing homelessness around the country.
Sue Lenahan is both a middle school counselor and a homeless education local school district liaison from Big Rapids Public Schools in central Michigan. She has served as a homeless liaison for approximately nine years, previously serving in Evart Public Schools, and currently shares her homeless liaison duties with high school counselor Julie Aldrich. Currently, there are 2,021 students enrolled in Big Rapids Public Schools. They attend one comprehensive high school, one alternative education virtual high school, one middle school, and two elementary schools. Within the school district, there are approximately 70 students who have been identified as homeless under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act.
How do you identify students
experiencing homelessness who are chronically absent?
is a part of me that wishes I could say that I regularly scan through
attendance data and identify all of the students who are having absenteeism as
a chronic problem, but what actually happens to identify chronically absent
homeless students in our district is a little more complex than that. Several
factors come into play in our support of all students, but it is the strong
relationships between staff that are created and maintained that make things
work. As a homeless liaison, it is imperative that I maintain close, supportive
relationships not only with the students and their families, but also with the
teachers, the office staff, the paraprofessionals, the school nurse, and the
food service department. I may learn about a student’s attendance problems
while reviewing data, but more than likely one of the teachers will contact me
voicing their concern–or the attendance clerk will let me know of a student’s
attendance so that I can make additional contact with the family. Or our food
service department might reach out to me and let me know that a particular
homeless student hasn’t eaten lunch for a number of days. It is definitely team
work that makes all of this happen, but if I didn’t consciously nurture the
relationships I have with the other members of this complex team, the support
we offer the students would be much harder to accomplish.
In your experience, what are some of the most
common causes of chronic absence for students experiencing homelessness?
Many homeless students
are enmeshed in generational poverty. They don’t always know or have role
models who have modeled what some researchers refer to as the “hidden rules of
the middle class.” It’s easy for them to
feel overwhelmed by something that may be no big deal for another student who
has a solid living situation with working parents. For example, they may not
have an alarm clock to wake them in the morning–or they often set an alarm and
forget to turn it on. Sometimes the children are the only ones who have to get
up and out of the house in the morning, and therefore may have to get ready for
school on their own. Growing up in these circumstances can be daunting–leading
to chronic absenteeism. Another common cause of chronic absence is a lack of
transportation. If the student misses the school bus and the parent doesn’t
have a working vehicle, the student just doesn’t come to school. A lack of
transportation also keeps the parents from getting the kids to the clinic if
they are sick, and then the kids miss more school due to being sick. It’s a
What strategies do you use to enable
consistent attendance? Do you leverage data in any way?
is a tough one, but again I’m going to fall back on the need for positive
relationships. If the student knows me, or has a strong relationship with a
teacher, that relationship can work wonders. I will often reach out to parents
via their cell phone – everyone has one! My approach is always one of concern
and empathy. I do not call to penalize. I call to help. Life really is tough
and it really is hard to fight the tough fight if you feel the deck is stacked
against you. If the student is at home, I will conference with them over the
phone, attempting to find out what the issues are, and how we can work through
them. Once the student is back at school, I stay in close touch with him/her as
well as with the teachers or other team members. I keep healthy snacks in my
office. Kids are always hungry! A kind word and a handful of trail mix can work
do use data when I work with the students–but I use it as a dialogue and
goal-setting tool. We can cross-reference attendance data with grades in
classes and see a direct correlation. ALL students want to get good grades — no
matter if they act like it or not. We use the data to set goals and refer to
data again when we reflect on goal-attainment. I’ve held “lunch bunch” groups
that include homeless students with chronic absenteeism–they love that. Students
love to have an invitation to a special place to have their lunch and share a
little dialogue in a welcoming area that is much less chaotic than a school
cafeteria. Having lunch with the counselor and a small group of students
(between three to five) opens the door to talk about school, relationships, and
future goals; to talk about who they are and what’s important to them. It gives
them a reason to come to school. Again: relationships are essential.
Does your district implement any
attendance programs or policies that support the attendance of students
day one, as federal law requires, we get the kids in school. We don’t wait for
all of the paperwork–we get them in school. We have centralized enrollment in
our district and the folks at the district office who enroll the students let
me know right away if the student comes from a transitional living situation
that may qualify as homeless.
our attendance clerk will always check with me if she knows of a homeless
family that is about to be referred to our truancy officer, and will defer to
my judgement as to whether or not a referral to truancy is the appropriate next
step. This happened just last week, actually. I was able to have a lengthy
conversation with the mother over the phone. Her kids had been ill, she was
ill, and they were dealing with head lice on top of it. I was able to talk with
her long enough to gain her trust by simply listening with empathy–while also
being honest with her about the possibility of truancy repercussions. The kids
were in school the next day, and the mother and children were able to meet with
our school nurse and gain some assistance for the lice issues, as well as
advice on visiting the clinic.
Recognizing that there’s no silver
bullet, what is your “top tip” for supporting the attendance of students
may have already guessed what my top tip might be: supportive relationships! This
is simply essential. Get to know the kids and their families. Get to know the
teachers, office staff, all of the other folks who make this educational merry-go-round
continue to function. Have compassion and work from a place of empathy. Seek
first to understand! Follow the Golden Rule!
Be nice! Operate under the umbrella of Dignity and Respect.
The person designated as a homeless liaison in a school district usually has that duty added on to an already full-time job. Supporting all homeless students and families is not something that can be accomplished in isolation. Everyone matters.
The convening partners of the GradNation campaign—America’s Promise Alliance, The Alliance for Excellent Education, Civic, and The Everyone Graduates Center—invite you to learn more about the current state of high school graduation in our country.
The current national graduation rate now stands at 84.6 percent—a new all-time high—and more than three million more students have graduated from high school rather than dropping out, resulting in significant benefits for them, our economy, and our nation. But this year’s report comes at a time when graduation rate gains are slowing, and effort must be redoubled to close stubborn equity gaps and ensure students are leaving high school better prepared for college and career.
The event will highlight the release of the 2019 Building a Grad Nation report authored by Civic and The Everyone Graduates Center, and include two moderated panels conversation to address the key challenges facing homeless students, and how efforts at improving high school graduation rates must lead to stronger secondary and postsecondary outcomes for students, featuring voices from diverse leaders in the field. Speakers will include:
Robert Balfanz, Director, The Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University
William Brangham, Correspondent and Producer, PBS NewsHour
John Bridgeland, Founder and CEO, Civic
Deborah Delisle, President and CEO, Alliance for Excellent Education
Barbara Duffield, Executive Director, SchoolHouse Connection
Monika Kincheloe, Senior Director of Strategic Initiatives and Partnerships, America’s Promise Alliance
John B. King Jr., former U.S. Secretary of Education and President and CEO of The Education Trust
Stanley Litow, Professor at Columbia and Duke University, and Innovator in Residence at Duke; President Emeritus of the IBM Foundation
Kathi Sheffel, McKinney-Vento Homeless Liaison, Fairfax County Public Schools
Elaine Williams, SchoolHouse Connection Young Leader
Light refreshments available at 9:00, programming to begin promptly at 9:30am ET.
Live streaming details will be sent to registrants the week before the event.
About the Building A Grad Nation Report
The 2019 Building a Grad Nation report is co-authored by Civic and Everyone Graduates Center, and released in partnership with America’s Promise Alliance and the Alliance for Excellent Education. The report examines both progress and challenges toward reaching the GradNation campaign goal of a national on-time graduation rate of 90 percent. The report is supported by AT&T as lead sponsor and Pure Edge and the Raikes Foundation as supporting sponsors.
Youth Voices: Homelessness, Hope, and The Road Ahead In Coordination With U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) U.S. Representative Steve Stivers (R-OH), U.S. Representative Dave Loebsack (D-IA), and U.S. Representative Danny K. Davis (D-IL)
Monday, June 10, 2019 | 9:30 – 11:00 A.M. The U.S. Capitol Visitor Center – SVC 212-10 S Capitol St SE & Independence Ave SW, Washington, DC 20024
This briefing is a facilitated discussion among eleven youth from across the country who experienced homelessness in high school and throughout much of their childhoods. Youth will discuss the challenges that they experienced in their PreK and K-12 education – and those they are experiencing now in college – as well as the people, programs, and internal attributes that have helped them persist and achieve success. They also will address the connection between youth homelessness and family homelessness.
The conversation is relevant to federal policy related to Pre-K and K-12 education, higher education, housing and homeless assistance, child welfare, and health care.
Youth from California, Florida, Indiana, Montana, New York, North Carolina, Texas, Washington state, and Wisconsin will be participating in the discussion. The youth are participants in SchoolHouse Connection’s Youth Leadership and Scholarship Program.
Please join us for this unique opportunity to learn from young people.
RSVP required for individuals who do not work for a Congressional office.
Please note: This event will not be recorded or live-streamed.