School Liaisons Go Above and Beyond to Help Homeless and Foster Students

School Liaisons Go Above and Beyond to Help Homeless and Foster Students

The homeless issue in California knows no city limits. While the presence of people living on the streets may be more prominent in some high-profile areas, there are people living without homes in every community in the state. Forty-nine percent of the nation’s homeless are located in California.

The McKinney-Vento Act defines homeless children and youths as individuals who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence. While this is a broader definition that includes far more than those people who literally live on the streets, it nonetheless illustrates the need for schools to provide additional services.

The McKinney-Vento Act does just that. It is a federal law designed to help people experiencing homelessness and protect the rights of children and youth who are homeless to go to school.

There were 236 students from the Alta Loma School District who were listed as homeless and/or living in shared housing out of necessity in 2017-2018. That’s a 47-person decrease from the previous year, but alarming nonetheless.

The academic challenges faced by these students is not unlike those shared by children living with Foster families, of which there are nearly 20 students currently in the Foster system who are attending ALSD schools.

Homeless students and those from Foster families may face significant barriers in achieving academic success, largely because of inconsistent attendance and other social barriers.

“We want to make sure these students are flourishing both socially and emotionally,” says ALSD Director of Human Resources and Pupil Services Joan Sanders. “We provide school-related resources such as backpacks, school supplies, clothing and shoes, and we sponsor extra-curricular activities to ensure inclusiveness.”

Designated staff at district schools go above and beyond their regular job descriptions to make sure these students are not left behind. ALSD elementary school teaching assistant principals and junior high school deans go out of their way to ensure these families receive the resources they need. As site liaisons, they also advocate on behalf of homeless and Foster youth to benefit their academic advancement by providing tutoring, counseling, academic workshops and programs to guide them toward future education and career opportunities.

The TAPS and deans closely monitor the status of all homeless and Foster students to help ensure the students feel connected with their respective schools.

Sara Budzinski, secretary for the ALSD Office of Pupil Services, helps to connect families with needed resources by sharing that information with school liaisons and also posting it online.

Community assistance has come in the form of school supplies, clothing from organizations such as the Assistance League of the Foothill Communities and Kohl's to aid to families who are struggling financially.

School personnel use the district’s annual residency affidavit form to help monitor and identify potentially homeless students. Parents or guardians may indicate that the family is living with another family out of financial necessity or living in temporary housing such as a hotel, recreational vehicle or even a car.

“Building connections and relationships with students and families is the first priority in establishing a healthy home and school relationship,” says Maureen Vass, dean of students at Vineyard Junior High and the school’s liaison. “At one school, over a year's time, a relationship was built on trust and communication with one particular student and the family, which brought about improved self-esteem and academics.”

The roots of that relationship grew from the student’s daily check-in and check-out routine, which allowed for additional time to spend with the school liaison every day.

School site liaisons meet with every homeless and Foster youth to determine their needs and then meet with them regularly throughout their time at the school. All interactions and interventions are documented and reviewed with Sanders, who evaluates the possible need for altered or additional services.

There are thousands of children in Foster care, group homes and kinship care throughout San Bernardino County.