Last fall, Education Lab and The Seattle Times took a chance on a wild idea that had been on my mind for months.
Why don’t we travel to Australia and report on a program that keeps kids in high school and might help end youth homelessness in Seattle before it ever begins?
The pitch came to me — as a joke at first — back in December 2018. But its genesis was even earlier, during the summer of 2018 when Education Lab and Project Homeless wanted to collaborate on more stories. Not only would that provide a new angle to explore the back-to-school season that fall, but coverage between the two teams offered a chance to explore the intersection of education and homelessness to find the young people who fall through the cracks.
Project Homeless reporter Scott Greenstone and I started that collaboration with J, a fourth-grader at Evergreen Elementary in Spanaway. She’s one of about 550 homeless kids in the Bethel school district, which along with dozens of other districts in Washington saw the count of homeless students more than double in five years.
Many readers reacted to that story with one question: Why do schools spend so much money on transportation for homeless students? So Education Lab sent photographer Mike Siegel and me to Reno to find out. (Spoiler alert: School stability makes a difference in a student’s academic performance.)
At Ed Lab, we’re in the habit of asking people who know more about solutions. What’s working there, and how applicable are those ideas to our region? A national expert on youth homelessness told me about another city — one about 8,000 miles away from Seattle: Geelong, in Australia, where an idea to prevent youth homelessness captured the attention of other experts in the U.S.
The tip turned into an initial story on The Geelong Project and why Seattle might become one of the first cities to host a U.S. pilot of the program. An early evaluation of the Geelong model found it sliced youth homelessness there nearly in half.
Half-jokingly, I asked my editor Joy Resmovits if we could afford to fly to Australia to see The Geelong Project before taxpayers in Seattle spent any money on it. Months later, she took me up on that offer.
I immediately started making calls to Australia, but we also wanted to know what readers wanted to know about Geelong. And we received dozens of questions. Some readers asked about the survey that students at seven Geelong schools take to gauge their risk of becoming homeless or dropping out. Others asked about the Australian city’s relative diversity to King County or about the program’s cost.
Eventually, after weeks of writing and editing, Education Lab and The Seattle Times published what we hope offers a thorough and thoughtful take on why The Geelong Project matters — that there’s at least one possible way to help young people before their lives enter a state of crisis.
But we’re not done answering your questions. The Tukwila school district is months away from launching the Upstream Project, and our reporting on it will continue. What else do you want to know? What follow-up stories do you want to read? You can submit ideas in the comments section below or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
And mark your calendars for mid-March, when Education Lab plans to host a community engagement event to share more about the Upstream Project and how it could — or should — work in South King County.
Correction: Seattle Times staff writer Neal Morton, amid the swirl of edits leading up to the big story, lost track of time and incorrectly recalled when he first dreamed of a reporting trip to Australia. He has since updated the above timeline.