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.
Title: Identifying Students Experiencing Homelessness: How Small Changes in Email Communications Can Achieve Big Results
Date: Monday, May 20, 2019, 2:00 – 3:15PM EDT
[Certificate of Attendance available upon completion]
Schools often struggle to identify children and youth experiencing homelessness, but identification is a critical first step in providing the support needed for educational success. This webinar will share the creation and results of a pilot project and study executed by the Office of Evaluation Sciences (OES) within the General Services Administration. The project used insights from behavioral science to develop new email communication materials to share simplified information on homelessness with school district homeless liaisons and superintendents in New Jersey, New Mexico, and New York. These simplified emails were designed to help school districts accurately identify homeless students in their districts and schools. Throughout the webinar, one member of the OES project development team and representatives from the New York and New Mexico teams will share their insights and experiences so that practitioners in other school districts and states can replicate the project and improve the identification of students experiencing homelessness.
Daniel Shephard, President – Implementation Science and Communication Strategies Group; former member of the Office of Evaluation Sciences and the Obama administration’s White House Social and Behavioral Sciences Team
Emily Kramer, Senior Program Analyst – NYS-TEACHS
Dana Malone, McKinney-Vento Homeless Education State Coordinator – New Mexico Public Education Department
Katie Brown, Education Leads Home Program Manager – SchoolHouse Connection
Title: Improving School Attendance for Students Experiencing Homelessness: A Model School-Shelter Partnership
Date: Monday, May 6, 2019, 1:00 – 2:15PM EDT
[Certificate of Attendance available upon completion]
This webinar will share the innovative model developed by the Improving School Attendance for Homeless Children (ISAHC) program in New York City, which provides new training and coordination resources to identify, address, and manage multiple systemic, intergenerational, and logistical barriers to improving school attendance among students experiencing homelessness.
Participants will learn how the program is data-informed and purposefully designed to rely predominantly on existing resources (adding only minimal new costs; use a team approach, and employ evidence-based practices at the individual and systems levels. The collaborative ISAHC team, the most significant feature of the model, brings together staff from the New York City Department of Education (DOE) and shelter provider staff to analyze and address the issues underlying school absences. Participants will also learn how to track student attendance progress using simple data analysis techniques and how to use attendance data as a tool for identifying families with complex challenges. Finally, participants will hear about methods for improving school attendance from the first day of homelessness at coordinated entry systems, schools, and shelters.
I first experienced homelessness with my family, then on my own. I was born to a single mother and a father who was absent because of post-traumatic stress disorder he developed after the war. Throughout my childhood, my mother, two sisters and I moved from home to home, sometimes not having one at all.
I changed schools so often that my teachers couldn’t test me and begin instruction before I left again. I rarely made friends because I never had enough time to get to know them. When I was 16, my mother finally settled with a man who had no desire to be a father. I became an unaccompanied youth—a minor who is homeless without a “present” guardian—and had to support myself financially.
Working a full-time job and trying to function as a “normal” student sometimes felt impossible. I often fell asleep in my first period class, causing my teachers—unaware of my situation—much frustration. On multiple occasions, they reprimanded me in front of my classmates for being “irresponsible.”
That changed when I broke my arm as a junior in high school. Since I was a minor, I couldn’t sign for my own medical care, and I spent six weeks in a splint that the ER doctor only intended for me to wear for a week before it was casted. In the end, it exposed my secret to my teachers—and then everything changed for me.
A Place I Felt Supported
Despite all the problems homelessness caused for me at school, it was still a place I could feel supported.
More than other adults in my life, teachers presented me with a reason to smile or an opportunity to be something more. I remember crying in my teacher’s office because school and a full-time job were too much to handle, and graduation seemed like a fantasy.
According to a recent report, Hidden in Plain Sight, students experiencing homelessness are 87 percent more likely to drop out. This exacerbates the existing issue, as a lack of a high school diploma or GED is the top risk factor for young adult homelessness, making them 4.5 times more likely to experience it.
But to my teacher Mrs. Roberts, that was not an option.
Life is not easy, she taught me, but the only way to make it easier is to have an education. She spent day after day building my confidence and guiding me to a successful path. She also introduced me to a woman who became a mentor and guided me in the ways that she could not.
As Center for Promise research shows, sometimes the most important thing an adult can do for young people is to introduce them to other caring adults, which together form a broader web of support.
Ultimately, Mrs. Roberts showed me that it was indeed possible to change my future in a constructive way. I did not have to fall into the same pattern as my family.
People often ask me, “Why are you going to school to teach—don’t you know you could make so much more money in a different field?”
My response to that question is pretty simple: Education has the power to change one’s entire life. Education is a major reason for my success, and one day I will change a student’s life with education.
This is why the new Education Leads Home campaign, the only national campaign of its kind focused solely on meeting the educational needs of homeless students, is so critical to helping students get on the other side of homelessness. Homelessness is more than just a housing problem, and addressing it requires different services coming together.
Housing agencies, health and mental health care, child care and employment training and opportunities and legal services can work together with and through the public school system to create stability and supports.
But before we can help more agencies fight this problem, more people have to be aware of it.
Homeless Youth Exist “In Every State and Every District”
When asked what schools can do to better identify and track homeless students, my answer is simple: awareness. Homeless students and unaccompanied youth exist in every state and every district. Nationwide, there are currently 1.3 million homeless students and many more who are unseen and unheard.
This year marks the first time that all states are required to track graduation rates for homeless students to meet ESSA standards. Stronger protections are in place to identify these students and to meet their unique needs. Similar policies are newly in place in early care and education programs, as well as higher education.
However, the work cannot stop there. Educators need practical support, evidence-based practices and technical assistance to implement these policies and make sure they benefit children and youth.
Furthermore, teachers are not the only adults who have a part to play. As a society, we must all help remove the stigma and fear that prevent homeless students from turning to adults for help. If students are never identified as homeless, they remain hidden within the school system with little, if any, access to the resources and support they need.
Teachers and schools are often the home that many homeless students rely on. They saved my life. It’s time to take a closer look at the gaps in our system so we can provide more homeless students with the support they need to reach their full potential.
Education Leads Home’s State Partnerships on Student Homelessness bring together governors’ offices, housing providers, educators and community organizations from around the country to take action toward overcoming child and youth homelessness through education. Through these dynamic partnerships, each state team will research and implement new approaches to address the most urgent needs of children and youth experiencing homelessness in their state. The State Partnerships on Student Homelessness are a nonpartisan initiative to promote proven, effective practices and policies that can be replicated by communities and states nationwide.
In this inaugural year of its State Partnerships, Education Leads Home (ELH) awarded grants to six states — California, Kentucky, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington — through a competitive process. ELH will provide ongoing support to maximize the Partnerships’ impact in those six states and across the nation.
By working directly with state leaders to develop and implement strategic action plans, and creating an innovative and collaborative “learning lab” of best practices from birth through postsecondary education, ELH’s State Partnerships will promote educational achievement and help break the cycle of poverty and homelessness.
State Partnership goals include:
improving access to high-quality early childhood education;
expanding existing host home programs for unaccompanied youth;
piloting school-housing partnerships to facilitate high school graduation;
improving the use of existing federal funding to increase state-level staffing capacity and local supports for students experiencing homelessness; and improving state policies and practices to address challenges including chronic absenteeism, suspension rates, and high school credit accrual.
State-specific summaries may be found below.
California: California’s grantee team, co-led by the Office of the Governor, the California Department of Education, and the Center for the Transformation of Schools at the University of California, Los Angeles, will explore not only where students experiencing homeless are, but also what types of school-related services are being provided to students and their families. The state plans to use this landscape analysis to devise and implement a more coordinated and comprehensive strategy for ensuring prevention and support efforts serve the academic, social, emotional, and health needs of students experiencing homelessness, from birth to career.
Hawaii: Hawaii’s grantee team is co-led by the Office of the Governor, the Hawaii Children’s Action Network, and the Executive Office on Early Learning/Hawaii Head Start Collaboration Office, and includes representatives from the Hawaii Departments of Education and Health, the University of Hawaii Center on the Family, PATCH Hawaii, and Ka Pa‘alana Homeless Family Education Program. The project will help operationalize and support a recently-developed Hawaii Early Childhood State Plan to increase the enrollment of young children experiencing homelessness in early care and education programs and services within their communities and to support their healthy growth and development. Activities are designed to assess barriers to enrolling children into programs, incentivize early care and education providers to enroll more homeless children, encourage shelter providers to support this endeavor, and increase access to and use of childcare subsidies by families experiencing homelessness.
Kentucky: Kentucky’s grantee team is co-led by the Office of the Governor, Erlanger-Elsmere School District, and Covington Independent Public School District, with support from the Kentucky Housing Corporation, Welcome House of Northern Kentucky, and Brighton Center. The team will support increased capacity for and the development of training initiatives for regional businesses and other community partners to improve identification of students experiencing homelessness and provide them with trauma-informed services. The team will also will provide one-time homelessness prevention supports to at-risk families identified by the schools, including utility assistance payments, rental application fees, security deposits, and short-term rent or mortgage assistance.
Nevada: Nevada’s grantee team, co-led by the Office of the Governor and the Nevada Department of Education, aims to help school districts strategically budget their Title I set-aside dollars to enhance the support they provide for students experiencing homelessness. Under the Every Student Succeeds Act, all local educational agencies that receive Title I Part A funds must reserve funds to support homeless students. The team also will create state-level guidance and procedures to reduce chronic absenteeism and dropout rates, and increase graduation rates, of young people experiencing homelessness.
Oregon: Oregon’s grantee team, co-led by the Office of the Governor, the Departments of Education and Human Services, and Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon, seeks to significantly improve the high school success of unaccompanied homeless students by helping communities replicate Second Home, a successful host home model that partners with school districts and mediators from a community-based dispute resolution center. The team will increase programmatic awareness, solicit host home volunteers, and rally financial support throughout the state, with the ultimate goal of connecting eligible students with family hosts and increasing collaboration among schools, housing providers, and community-based organizations. The current Second Home program has enabled its students to earn a 96% graduation rate, while the overall four-year graduation rate for homeless students in that same district is only 49%.
Washington State: Washington’s grantee team, co-led by the Office of the Governor and Building Changes, will research and evaluate the state’s early learning policies to promote the participation of young children experiencing homelessness in early learning programs. As part of this process, the team will partner with the Washington State Association of Head Start & ECEAP (the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program) to convene a stakeholder meeting and distribute surveys to early learning and housing providers across the state. These activities and additional research will culminate in a policy analysis and recommendations to support young children and their families experiencing homelessness.
Twenty-six states share high school graduation rates for homeless students that reveal educational challenges above and beyond poverty alone.
State-level data shows that homeless students graduate on time at significantly lower rates than their housed peers. In fact, data from the National Center for Homeless Education1 released this week found a national average graduation rate of just 64 percent for homeless students, as compared to the low-income rate of 77.6 percent, and 84.1 percent for all students.
These gaps reflect the significant educational challenges – above and beyond poverty – that homeless students face. We can and must do more to remove these barriers. Students cannot afford to miss out on the critical first step of a high school diploma due to homelessness.
Erin Ingram, Senior Policy Advisor, CIVIC
One of the Education Leads Home campaign goals is to raise the graduation rate for homeless students to 90 percent by 2030. Under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), states are now required to disaggregate graduation rates for homeless students and will be required to share 2017-2018 graduation rates for homeless students next year. Among the 26 states that have shared graduation rates for homeless students with Education Leads Home, the lowest rate is just 45 percent.
In addition, this year marks the highest number of homeless students enrolled in public schools on record. This increase may be due in part to improved school identification of homeless students, a positive first step, since those students will be more likely to access the supports they need if identified. Armed with an arguably more accurate understanding of the breadth and depth of student needs, states reporting higher numbers of homeless students or lower graduation rates are well positioned to be acutely responsive with targeted services, policies, and practices.
Homelessness among students is more than just a housing problem. It impacts every aspect of a child’s life. Education is key to breaking the cycle of poverty and establishing economic mobility. It’s the only way we can prevent today’s homeless children and youth from becoming the next generation of homeless adults. The good news is that we have strong policy on the books that many school districts are implementing robustly; we can and should learn from and replicate these best practices.
Barbara Duffield, Executive Director, SchoolHouse Connection
Refine and standardize systems for identifying homeless students in school
Actively work with students to help them stay in school. Examples include:
Be more flexible with policies around attendance and timelines for assignments;
Assist students as they work through challenges in transfers of test scores and transcripts;
Help students navigate legal issues around obtaining parental consent to re-enroll or participate in school activities
Actively work to connect homeless students to outside supports, such as housing organizations, mental and physical health providers, mentoring groups, and extracurricular activities.
Work to ensure ESSA is fully implemented, including removing the barriers to access as required by law, and educating school staff on the requirements of McKinney-Vento under ESSA.
Students experiencing homelessness are 87 percent2 more likely to drop out of school than their housed peers; without a high school diploma, youth are 4.5 times more likely to experience homelessness3 later in life.
Furthermore, more than 95 percent of jobs created during the economic recovery have gone to workers with at least some college education, while those with a high school diploma or less are being left behind. Research continues to support the imperative of actively addressing the educational needs of homeless students to help break the cycle of poverty.
As ESSA is implemented, Education Leads Home will continue to monitor states’ progress and identify and share best practices to improve student outcomes in communities across the country. This data will allow experts and policymakers to assess the need for improved policies and targeted resources to keep students on track to graduate.