Erase the Gap Gives Mentoring and Academic Support to Homeless and Foster Youth
With the help of a grant from technology giant Cisco, this Saturday learning program provides high-quality math, English, digital literacy, and social and emotional learning enrichment to students within the Mount Pleasant Elementary School District.
Students range from the K-5th grades and come from multiple schools within the district.
This program focuses on students behind in grade level, many of whom are homeless and foster youth, and looks to get them up to speed.
There are two 1.5-hour sessions: a one-time slot for K-2nd graders and one for 3rd-5th graders.
Each session is in a small group format, with a handful of students per tutor.
There are native Spanish speakers on staff to assist students who may need their help as well.
Sessions are divided up into approximately three equal parts:
About half an hour on math and English,
Half an hour on digital literacy, and
Half an hour on social and emotional learning.
Innovative platforms and curriculum are implemented here. There are fun games where students must solve challenging math problems to progress, interactive tools from Google to learn about internet safety, and more.
Digital literacy topics cover how to utilize technology in the classroom and how technology is a critical part of everyday life, from traffic lights to communication.
Social and emotional learning complements these topics by giving students a chance to cope with their situations.
It also teaches skills on coping with the social isolation that we are all having to deal with during the pandemic.
The older students complete an assessment before beginning tutoring. This creates a benchmark of their current skills and abilities.
Each student’s progress, both academically and in engagement, is tracked each week.
BATA staff have recently implemented physical notebooks to help alleviate “Zoom fatigue” amongst the students.
Tutors also facilitate short yet educational breaks where the students watch funny animal videos or create digital artwork.
The students can interact during these pauses and build supportive relationships and communities within the program.
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Why Homelessness and Poverty Are Relentless Barriers to Academics
The importance of education in our quest to understand and alleviate the effects of homelessness on learners cannot be overemphasized. First, people with lower academic achievement are more likely to be unemployed, underemployed, or poor. Second, homelessness can make it difficult for many young people and children to stay in school, and it often leads to them dropping out despite their best intentions. Third, providing academic help for homeless persons sometimes takes a back seat to more pressing needs like housing and food.
Being forced to drop out is one of the effects of youth homelessness. Fostering youth becomes critical. In some situations, the variables that contributed to a young person’s homelessness also impacted academic performance. Many of these learners are already on the verge of dropping out. In certain circumstances, school may not have been impacted at all.
When a person’s homelessness forces them to leave their community, leaving school becomes even more likely, regardless of their previous academic performance.
Unfortunately, schools were not built to accommodate the needs of pupils who were homeless, traumatized, or grew up in poverty. Too often, school districts have services, but families lack the financial wherewithal to use them. On the other hand, schools are where students are, making the school campus a perfect location for bringing in community-based groups that may assist students in need.
Returning to or continuing education after being on the streets becomes a significant difficulty. School is often not a practical option for street adolescents who lack access to cheap accommodation, appropriate income, proper nutrition, and trusting supporting adults. Advocates say that by denying adolescents suffering homelessness access to appropriate educational options, we are sentencing them to a life of poverty.
Keeping children in school is sometimes a problem for families who are experiencing homelessness. Fostering homeless youth can help. Families that are homeless are frequently compelled to relocate to family shelters located far away from their homes. As a result, children have little choice but to enroll in a new school, and they are at a disadvantage in acquiring a good education due to their families’ poverty.
Despite claims of rising homelessness across the country, national polls predict that nearly 420,000 homeless pupils went missing from school systems’ rosters during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many of these traditional methods for locating and enrolling these children — teacher referrals, in-person searches, classroom visits — were unavailable to homeless education liaisons. As a result, the number of students suffering from homelessness in the United States increased by around 45% from 2009-2019, the most recent year for which statistics is available, to almost 2 million.
Most of the expansion came from students “doubling up” or staying with family and friends temporarily. As a result, approximately 84% of homeless students live in hotels or motels. The U.S. Department of Education oversees the principal source of federal assistance for homeless kids, known as the McKinney-Vento Law. That money will go toward providing a nationally guaranteed set of services to homeless children, such as free medical care, extra tutoring, and complimentary transportation to school, among other things. It does not, however, provide housing assistance.
Young learners faced with the challenges of homelessness are often called “hidden in plain sight.” Unfortunately, unless the proper steps are done, they will remain that way, and the barriers to education also remain.
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Why Tutoring Homeless Learners Matter
According to many national estimates, families with children are among the biggest and fastest-growing groups of the homeless population. Over a year, an estimated 1.35 million children in the United States are likely to be homeless. This figure reflects 2% of all children in the United States and 10% of all poor children in the United States.
The educational prospects for homeless children and teens are severely limited. Homeless children are frequently prevented from enrolling in school due to guardiancy and residency requirements, delays in school record transfers, a lack of options for transportation to school, and a lack of immunization documents. Even when homeless children and youth can enroll in school, consistent attendance remains a challenge: while 87% of the homeless youth are enrolled, only 77% regularly attend. In addition to enrollment issues, homelessness relates to a high level of mobility, which has serious educational repercussions.
Homeless families frequently travel due to shelter time constraints, the quest for safe and cheap homes or jobs, or flee violent spouses. In addition, homeless children are commonly forced to shift schools because shelters or other temporary housing are not located within their school district.
In recent years, 42% of homeless learners have changed schools at least once, and 51% of these pupils have changed schools twice or even more. As a result of these frequent movements and disruptions, you can already imagine how and why homeless learners are always at significant risk of falling behind academically. Furthermore, homeless children are significantly less likely to gain the skills to escape poverty as adults if they do not have access to education.