- Many homeless high school students hide their situation from school officials and their peers because they fear the police, foster care officials, or embarrassment, according to a District Administration article, which states that it's important for school officials to first establish trust with these students and then help them find ways to overcome the obstacles to good attendance and academic performance.
- The Dallas Independent School District, for example, is now offering drop-in centers that provide food, hygiene products and laundry facilities for homeless high school students, as well as the opportunity to meet with volunteer mentors who can provide information about local community resources and housing programs.
- The Maine School Administrative District #60, which already operates a school-based clinic and sends food home to needy students, has formed its own nonprofit organization that plans to purchase a home that could provide housing for about 12 high school students a year based on teacher referrals.
In the 2015-16 school year, there were more than 1.3 million homeless students enrolled in public schools across the nation, according to the National Center for Homeless Education, and that is just the number of students who were identified as homeless. Homeless students are notoriously hard to identify because families or unaccompanied teens are often fearful or ashamed to make their status known. Teachers may be the first to notice signs of homelessness: fatigue, wearing the same clothes, carrying their belongings with them, or hoarding food.
These students need extra support and understanding during what is, hopefully, a temporary season of homelessness. Their situation may prevent them from attending school regularly and from being able to complete homework assignments, especially those that require a computer or Internet access. When teachers are aware of these situations, they can help make special accommodations that don’t require computer access. Even simple steps such as providing school supplies and a clipboard can help a student living in cramped conditions.
With new Every Student Succeeds Act guidelines in place, schools now have more reasons to help homeless students address the obstacles to education and prevent the stigma of homelessness. More schools are installing laundry and shower facilities and others are providing drop-in centers that help meet student needs. Some are even looking at converting abandoned schools into homeless shelters. There are other ways that schools can help, such as designing bus routes to protect student privacy so that homeless students who live in shelters or motels are picked up first and delivered last. By taking such measures, schools not only help increase the odds of regular attendance, they also help students see schools as a place of help and compassion.