Paula nails it. She and her son have been homeless for a couple years after experiencing brutal and long-lasting abuse from her ex. It's a common tale, I know. But let's not ho-hum it. What they're dealing with is anything but ho-hum.
The reality of shelter life is...impermanence; where will we end up? Add this to the day after day awareness of their parents preoccupation with seeking employment, overcoming the despair that poverty invites or banging your head daily to live with seriously limited resources, and feeling isolated because as much as we don't want to feel ashamed of our circumstances...we suffer the judgmental slings and arrows from school personnel and all the jabs and jeers of those automated letters and voicemails. [Paula, mom in a homeless situation with her son]
The simple act of her 12-year-old son (a cool kid!) getting to school is causing massive distress. Trauma in abundance lingers like a storm cloud over their lives. Her ex-spouse sounds like a scary monster in a horror movie. The "protection" system--the courts/law enforcement--appear to be anything but helpful. The danger of the ex returning to wreak havoc is plausible. And the school appears to be dismissing her like a piece of junk mail.
Paula's trying to get her son on the school bus, but the shelter they're in seems to be a tad too close to the school, by .2 miles according to my calculation. Her son, according to what she's shared, gets bullied by kids along the sidewalk and on school property. He's dreading school, certainly the act of walking to/from school, which is contrary to his intelligent, enthusiastic manner that I've seen.
I've talked to a couple lawyers familiar with the rightfully-touted McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Act. Although MV isn't as obvious as some of us would like, it does give schools leeway in situations like this--where barriers exist for kids' attendance and success in school. Other creative, legit ways of getting around the obvious school transportation issue also exist.
I spoke with the principal who assured me that they do everything possible for kids--all kids--at their school. I'd like to believe him. But the proof will be evident if this boy can hop a bus.
I'm waiting to speak with the district's homeless liaison. Paula indicates no one's ever connected her (or other families she's spoken to) with the liaison, who is supposed to be the point-person to avert these kind of stumbling blocks. The lack of attention to this issue is quite evident to this astute mom.
The good news is, if districts are willing to invest minimal money and precious time, we have some great tools to help districts better understand and address myriad issues facing students in homeless situations:
- HEAR US offers 2 great videos (DVDs), My Own Four Walls, and on the edge.
- We have a free video that can be watched online, REACH, that explains how to make M-V work, even if you're behind bars.
- We also have Pat Van Doren's powerful set of children's books and adult books on homelessness, mine (Crossing the Line: Taking Steps to End Homelessness) and my friend Pat LaMarche's missive, Left Out in America.
- And a great new video by my friend Patricia Julianelle has school officials explaining (in user-friendly 8-min. clips) how this law, one in which I was quite involved in getting passed, works so well. The McKinney-Vento Act in Our Schools hits the nail on the head.
I'm willing to be the tutor for this district. I'd bring in experts like Paula and scads of other parents that could educate the educators. With the unprecedented growth of homelessness, we better kick into gear how to best cope with it before we see an Occupy Schoolyard movement.