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A school district is helping homeless students by helping families

Feb 17, 2017

There are more than 1.3 million homeless students in the United States - a number that has nearly doubled in the last decade.

Homelessness can have a lasting impact. Children are more likely to fall behind in school or drop out altogether, and are less likely to find a job and earn a living wage as adults.

Kansas City Kansas Public Schools realized that if it wanted to help improve outcomes for its nearly 1,400 homeless students, it needed to help students' families. Last August, the district started Impact Wednesday, a pilot program that helps provide stability for families facing economic hardship.

Education Week correspondent Lisa Stark reported on the program earlier this week in a segment for PBS NewsHour you can watch below:

Impact Wednesday provides homeless students in the district with resources like clothing, food, school supplies and transportation to and from school. And parents get help finding a job, housing and childcare.

Malik Cushon is a student at Schlagle High School in Kansas City. After he was kicked out of his mother’s house he turned to KCKPS for a place to stay. He said in the video:

If I’m jumping from place to place, I’m not as focused on my school work. I got to think about what I’m eating for the night. I got to think about how bills are going to get paid. I got to think about all this extra stuff.

In addition to worrying about things like having a place to sleep or food to eat, homeless families have to worry about things people may take for granted, like having clean uniforms.

“Families living in shelters have nowhere to wash school uniforms so they won’t send their kids to school because they are embarrassed,” Drema Brown of the Children’s Aid Society told The Atlantic.

The challenge in helping homeless students often starts with finding them, according to NPR:

As other research has shown, students with insecure housing aren't all living in shelters. They may be doubled up with relatives or moving frequently from place to place. And they may be housed with their whole families, or going it alone. Often, schools have a practice of asking for proof of residence only once at enrollment, which doesn't capture transitions or instability.

And many students may be too uncomfortable or embarrassed to tell other people about their situation.

Starting this school year, states and local school districts will be required to disaggregate the graduation rates of homeless students for the first time in history under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). According to The Atlantic, educators say it will strengthen the visibility of homeless students and help states and districts direct resources to the kids who need help the most.

Kerry Wrenick, is a homeless liaison for KCKPS. She says that keeping kids in school is the primary goal of Impact Wednesday.

“To keep one kid at one school for one year, we just have the best outcome for their learning and their potential to pass and go on to the next grade,” Wrenick said in the video.