Schoolhouse Washington recently awarded the 18-month grant to Tukwila, where nearly 12 percent of its 2,800 students were identified as homeless last year.
Teachers who find out one of their students lacks a stable home might automatically assume the student is going to have problems in class. The teacher might not understand that a student living at an aunt’s house is homeless, just like a child living in a shelter or a tent. And they might not know how to help such students.
In Tukwila, district officials want to get rid of the confusion and stereotypes about homeless students. So they plan to use a new $250,000 grant to help teachers as well as students.
Schoolhouse Washington recently awarded the 18-month grant to Tukwila, where nearly 12 percent of the district’s 2,800 students were identified as homeless last year. Under the federal McKinney-Vento law, any student who doesn’t have a “fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence” is considered homeless.
The district plans to hire a trainer to work with teachers and other school staff members, to help them better understand the laws related to homeless students, like McKinney-Vento, and how to be sure they’re all identified.
That education and support are greatly needed, said homeless-student coordinator Jonathan Houston. For example, some teachers have asked him about the district’s high transportation costs for students who had to move far away in the middle of the year to find temporary or transitional housing. They didn’t know that a student identified as homeless gets to stay at one school through the year, regardless of where they’ve moved, or that having to move schools might be detrimental to their learning.
“We want to educate them about services, and have them learn how (homelessness) impacts students,” said Houston, who was homeless, for a time, himself. “If they don’t understand how big of an issue it is, it’s easy to dismiss it as a small issue.”
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The district will also hire a coordinator to work with families and create a tool kit for other staff members who work with students. Those staff members will also better track students’ attendance and academic progress.
The district will have at least 115 homeless students next year, and that number will likely grow. Schoolhouse Washington, a partnership between the nonprofit Building Changes and Columbia Legal Services, called the district a leader and innovator in the ways it helps its homeless students. But the district wants to do more, Houston said.
“We want to empower the teachers and students,” he said. “Not just a temporary Band-Aid, but a continuum of care.”