ERIC Identifier: ED383783 Publication Date: 1995-04-00
Author: Schwartz, Wendy Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Urban Education New York NY.
School Programs and Practices for Homeless Students. ERIC/CUE
Digest, Number 105.
Most urban schools have created special programs for homeless students to
help them succeed academically, and to offer them access to social services and
a safe and stress-free environment. Some programs even provide parents with
services, an opportunity to develop skills, and volunteer or part-time work.
The more comprehensive programs may require significant expenditures, such as
the B. F. Day Elementary School in Seattle, which serves only homeless students
(Quint, 1994). Others, however, are surprisingly inexpensive, although they may
be labor intensive. Some programs can be supported by private contributions.
THE LIVES OF HOMELESS FAMILIES
Residence in a shelter is
not conducive to good parenting, nutrition, or hygiene; provides no sense of
stability; and offers little privacy for homework or family interaction.
Further, shelter life may expose children to violence--as victims, witnesses, or
Some feelings suffered by homeless children can take a great toll on their
academic success; fatigue can destroy concentration, hopelessness can undermine
initiative, and anger can cause bad behavior (First & Oakley, 1993). Many
children need comprehensive support for recovery. Some exhibit little evidence
of the turmoil in their lives, but can benefit from supports that help them
achieve their full potential (Eddowes, 1992). "Parentified" children, who assume
the role of family caregiver and function at a higher level than other homeless
children, need to be relieved of burdens not appropriate for a child to carry
SCHOOL POLICIES AND PROGRAMS
In response to the Stewart B.
McKinney Homeless Assistance Act and Amendments, which mandated removal of
barriers to homeless children's access to education and provided funding,
schools revised their policies and developed a range of education and social
POLICIES AND PROCEDURES
RECRUITMENT. Some schools leave
brochures at local shelters to encourage children's attendance by providing
parents with information about enrollment procedures and transportation. Some
even send teams to shelters, consisting of staff and, perhaps, parents of
homeless students (Johnson, 1992). Team members answer questions, help fill out
forms, and generally support parents; they also can check on frequently absent
ENROLLMENT. Some schools have relaxed policies for enrolling homeless
children, such as residency requirements and proof of immunization (Macro
Systems, Inc., 1991). They may also arrange for required pre-enrollment health
examinations (Johnson, 1992). By involving most of the staff, many schools have
developed procedures to integrate new homeless students quickly. They expedite
student and parent orientation, assessment and placement, acquisition of
records, and transportation arrangements. In some places, state and local agency
cooperation can further streamline enrollment; for example, the Texas Office of
Assistance to Homeless Children maintains a database that enables school
districts to get information on a child from a central source (Eddowes, 1992).
SERVICE COORDINATION. Schools often coordinate the delivery of various social
services among themselves, shelters, and other agencies, and host regular staff
meetings. While preserving the confidentiality rights of families, schools can
share information about students to maximize the value of each intervention.
Since schools are in regular contact with parents, it can make sense for them to
assume responsibility for providing information on community health and social
Since changing schools seriously compromises students' academic performance,
schools must help transport homeless children in order to retain them despite
frequent moves (Eddowes, 1992). Some schools seek additional funds for buses
Ways to educate homeless students range
from total segregation to complete mainstreaming. As noted above, B. F. Day in
Seattle serves only homeless students in the belief that students benefit from
constant attention to the requirements of their situation (Quint, 1994). While
there is impressive evidence of this school's success, its costs may be
prohibitive in most districts.
Another way to serve homeless students as a group is to move classes to
shelters to reach children who cannot come to the school building (Johnson,
1992). At school, homeless students are sometimes kept together in a class
within the school, or gathered in a "transition room" before classes begin, in
order to better target services to them and to coordinate transportation.
Despite efficiencies in service delivery, segregated programs must take great
care not to stigmatize homeless children, or to limit their educational
opportunities as more traditional tracking practices do. Moreover, segregating
homeless students prevents other students from learning about homelessness and
may promote prejudice (Tower, 1992).
It is more common for schools to attempt to integrate students as quickly as
possible, using the procedures discussed above to facilitate mainstreaming
Schools try to nurture the psychosocial
development of homeless students by providing opportunities otherwise missing
from their lives: to experience stability, security, predictability, and
belonging; to make friends and play; and to enjoy the undivided attention of a
caring adult (Eddowes, 1992).
INSTRUCTIONAL PRACTICES. Homeless
students may be more tired and have more concerns than their peers, so engaging
their attention can be difficult. Teachers should explain the usefulness of
mastering a task. They should encourage students to ask questions because their
families may not be able to prompt their inquisitiveness. Students may respond
particularly to one-on-one instruction and cooperative learning (Quint, 1994).
Since children in difficult life circumstances and those who do not speak
standard English may comprehend less than other students, teachers should teach
decoding strategies rather than use rote learning drills. Teachers should guide
students in discussing the meaning of what they read.
CURRICULUM. One way to lessen the stigma that homeless students feel, and to
educate all students about social and economic conditions, is to discuss the
reasons for poverty and homelessness. For example, students can research real
estate trends to learn how low-income rental apartments were converted to higher
priced cooperatives (Tower, 1992).
TUTORING. A tutoring program can be administered by volunteers, possibly
homeless parents. Tutors can be solicited from local colleges, high schools,
corporations, senior programs (Quint, 1994). Homeless students can themselves be
tutors, thus increasing their self-esteem as they help each other. After-school
tutoring in school provides students with more learning time in a safe place.
STAFF RECRUITMENT AND TRAINING
Since reaching out to all
students is a school's obligation, schools need to train teachers, counselors,
and other staff to work effectively with homeless families and service agencies.
Administrators should establish an environment where it is assumed that homeless
families will be treated equally and with dignity. When reviewing applicants,
schools should consider experience with homeless students and ability to work as
part of a case management team. They should also try to assemble a multicultural
staff that reflects the composition of the student body (Quint, 1994).
Staff training should consist of these elements: (1) sensitization to the
situation of homeless families by providing facts, indicating similarities
between the staff and the families, and visiting shelters; (2) instruction in
the use of customized education strategies; and (3) ways to work effectively in
case management teams. Program leaders should be adept at building coalitions
with the school and service agencies.
A school can provide a special place
where homeless children can go for a chat with a counselor or other sympathetic
person, or simply some quiet time between the chaos of a shelter and the start
of the school day (Quint, 1994). It should also offer privacy so that children
can seek help without fear of being overheard. If possible, the room should
remain available in the evening so students have a safe place for homework or
play. A school may also provide these resources (Quint, 1994; Eddowes, 1992):
Nutritious meals, including dinner for students who participate in after-school
Storage space for personal belongings.
Clothing, second-hand or new items solicited from apparel companies.
Personal hygiene items and bathing facilities.
Health services or clinic referrals.
Information on public assistance and services.
School policies for homeless students are
concerned primarily with increasing overall well-being. They also take account
of each student's individual differences, and do not make assumptions about a
child's potential based on living situation. The teaching methods that work best
with them are those that are successful with all urban students. Offering
students respect, caring, and understanding, along with more concrete supports
not available at home, can do as much to enhance their ability to learn as can
discrete educational strategies.
Eddowes, E. A. (1992). Children and
homelessness: Early childhood and elementary education. In J. H. Stronge (Ed.),
Educating homeless children and adolescents: Evaluating policy and practice.
Newbury Park: Sage. (ED 356 288)
First, P. F., & Oakley, J. L. (1993, August). Policy, behavior, and
research: Changing schooling for homeless children and youth. Education and
Urban Society, 25(4), 424-37.
Johnson, Jr., J. F. (1992). Educational support services for homeless
children and youth. In J. H. Stronge (Ed.), Educating homeless children and
adolescents: Evaluating policy and practice. Newbury Park: Sage. (ED 356 288)
Macro Systems, Inc. (1991). Homeless families with children: Programmatic
responses of five communities (vol. 1). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of
Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and
Quint, S. (1994). Schooling homeless children: A working model for America's
public schools. New York: Teachers College Press. (ED 375 216)
Tower, C. C. (1992). The psychosocial context: Supporting education for
homeless children and youth. In J. H. Stronge (Ed.), Educating homeless children
and adolescents: Evaluating policy and practice. Newbury Park: Sage. (ED 356
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