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The Summer Bridge: Supporting Students Experiencing Homelessness

The Summer Bridge: Supporting Students Experiencing Homelessness

Date of the Event: June 30, 2022 | Kailanya Brailey, Quibilia Divine, Jessica Grotevant Webster, Heather Naviasky, Ian Rashleigh McNally, Karen Rice, Nikevia Thomas
Show Notes:

Part of our “Are ALL the Children Well?” series, this webinar looks at homeless education and summer supports for students and families. We were joined by homeless education experts, an out-of-school time (OST) provider, and other service providers to define homeless education; understand the challenges and changes that have impacted students and families who experience homelessness in the midst of COVID; become familiar with services and resources available to students who experience homelessness, including McKinney-Vento Coordinators for families and students; and identify resources and tools that support students and families who experience homelessness.

Nikevia Thomas:

Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining us and welcome to The Summer Bridge: Supporting Students Experiencing Homelessness. To get us started, I would invite you to please share your name and where you are coming from today and what you hope to learn today. (silence)

Hello, John. From McKinnis from the Maryland State Department of Education. Nice to meet you. Thank you for joining us. Tomorrow from Kansas. Welcome. Megan from West Virgini...

Nikevia Thomas:

Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining us and welcome to The Summer Bridge: Supporting Students Experiencing Homelessness. To get us started, I would invite you to please share your name and where you are coming from today and what you hope to learn today. (silence)

Hello, John. From McKinnis from the Maryland State Department of Education. Nice to meet you. Thank you for joining us. Tomorrow from Kansas. Welcome. Megan from West Virginia. Nice to meet you. And our own Allegra is here. Welcome. Sean from Detroit. Sabine or Sabina from Las Vegas. Wonderful. Lori says I hope to learn what to offer our homeless student population. Trayvon James from Anne Arundel county. Welcome. Karina from San Diego. Nice to meet you. All the way from the west coast. And Jason is from Spokane. Welcome. Emily from Colorado. The west coast is heavy. Welcome. We welcome you. Thank you for joining us. Brandi from Maine. Sheila from Missouri. Sabina says she hopes to learn the latest laws and regulations. Oh, Vanessa is here. Hi, Vanessa.

Jason says I hope to learn more about McKinney-Vento. Okay. Let’s get in… You all keep introducing yourselves and we’re just going to keep rolling. Can you go to next, please? So thank you for joining us. Today’s webinar is a part of a four-part series put together by CAFE and CEE, which I will tell you more about later. And the title of the workshop series is called Are All the Children Well?, a four-part homeless education and family engagement webinar series. Next. So here at MAEC, we are a champion of innovation, collaboration and equity. Next. And here is our agenda for today. We’ll do welcome and introductions. We’ll look at what is homeless education, the impact of COVID on students who experience homelessness. We’ll look at the McKinney-Vento and out-of-school time providers. We’ll look at program supports and then we’ll have a round table of question and answers for our panelists who you’ll meet later, and then we’ll have a closing.

So for our webinar etiquette, please use the chat box to engage with other participants. We recommend that you click on the chat icon on the bottom or top toolbar of your screen and please do not use the raise hand function. There will be a Q&A, as I said earlier, toward the end of our webinar. Please put your questions you want the panelist to answer into the Q&A box. Next. So close captioning has already been enabled so it should already be popping up on your screen by default. So to turn it off, on your webinar controls at the bottom of your zoom window, select live caption or close caption button, and then select hide subtitles. If you want to view the subtitles again, repeat step two and select show subtitles instead. Next.

So here’s a little more about MAEC. So MAEC was founded in 1992 as an education nonprofit dedicated to increasing access to high-quality education for culturally diverse, linguistically and economically diverse learners. MAEC envisions a day when all students have equitable opportunities to learn and achieve at high levels, and our mission is to promote excellence and equity in education to achieve social justice. We believe that all students deserve to feel welcome, respected, and safe at school and provided with the opportunities to thrive. Next.

So two of MAEC’s projects are CEE and CAFE, and CEE is the Center for Education Equity. One second, sorry. CEE is a project that we have in partnership with WestEd and the American Institutes for Research or AAR. And CEE is one of four regional equity assistance centers funded by the US Department of Education under title four of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. And we serve 15 states and territories and CAFE is the collaborative action for family engagement. CAFE is MAEC’s statewide family engagement center in Pennsylvania and Maryland. We apply an equity lens to family engagement by building relationships among schools, parents, and community organizations. We improve the development and academic achievement of all students. Next. And here is a map of the areas that we serve. On the left, you will see that CEE serves all of the areas mentioned here and CAFE in you see the map of Maryland and Pennsylvania. Next. And putting on this webinar takes a lot of work behind the scenes, and here I would like you to meet the webinar support team. We have Ian Rashleigh McNally. He is an evaluation intern at MAEC, and Ian is in charge of operations and tech support for our webinar today. And then there’s me. My name is Nikevia Thomas. I’m a senior specialist at MAEC and I serve as the virtual event planner and a chat box support for the webinar today.

And now I would like to introduce you all to your facilitators for today. So first, I would like you to meet Kailanya Brailey. Kailanya is a senior educational equity specialist at MAEC and Kailanya is a Livingston South Carolina native with over 17 years of experience as a secondary educator in public school settings in South Carolina, including eight years as an English language arts teacher, five years as a middle school assistant principal, and four years as a middle school principal. Kailanya holds a Master’s in Educational Administration from the University of South Carolina, a Master’s in Education from Walden University with a specialization in curriculum, instruction, and assessment, and a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and secondary education from Winthrop University. In addition to her service as an educator, Kailanya is also a children’s book author and speaker. She has presented at local district and state level conferences and professional learning events on a variety of topics, including bias, building community, empowering students, leadership, and the power of one’s story. And then our second facilitator today is Jessica Grotevant… Oh. Jessica, I did it. I’m sorry.

Jessica Grotevant Webster:

It’s okay. You can just say Webster. It’s all good.

Nikevia Thomas:

Webster. I usually don’t but I did it today. So Jessica is a senior family engagement specialist at MAEC. Jessica is a Pennsylvania native and experienced educator with over 20 years of classroom and leadership experience in both public and private education. She completed her education doctorate in educational leadership at the University of Pittsburgh. Her dissertation focused on engaging families through the transition to middle school. She earned a Master of Education in educational leadership with K through 12 principal certification from Edinboro University of Pennsylvania and a Master of Education in literacy from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Jessica is a proud mom of three children, dog lover of two and wife of one who loves Harry Potter, music and theater, yoga, reading, and cooking. Jessica’s pronouns are she/her/hers. It is my pleasure and honor to introduce you all to Kailanya and Jessica.

Kailanya Brailey:

Thank you, Nikevia. And it is our pleasure to join you all today and learn alongside our wonderful panelists. And I will begin with introducing them on the next slide. So next. First we have joining us Karen Rice. Karen is the senior program manager of education initiatives at Schoolhouse Connections. Karen has a Bachelor’s Degree in Spanish and Education from the University of Northwestern St. Paul and a Master’s Degree in Education Professional Counseling from Concordia University in Wisconsin. Karen brings 10 years of experience at the school district level serving in a variety of roles, including district translator and interpreter, transitional educator, coordinator, bilingual family outreach coordinator, and bilingual family liaison. During these years, Karen focused on family engagement and professional development to serve both students experiencing homelessness and the Latinx community. Prior to joining Schoolhouse Connection, Karen spent five years at the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction as a state coordinator for the education of homeless children and youth and a coordinator of the migrant education program. Together with colleagues, Karen supported district and regional staff by providing extensive training and capacity-building opportunities. In 2021, Karen joined the Schoolhouse Connection team as the senior program manager of education initiatives. Karen focuses on supporting K12 local liaisons and state coordinators. Karen provides professional development on the McKinney-Vento Act, best practices for supporting students experiencing homelessness, and technical assistance on implementing the American Rescue Plan – Homeless Children and Youth. Welcome, Karen.

Jessica Grotevant Webster:

Our second presenter today is Heather Naviasky and she is the executive director of the Teen Initiatives at the Y of central Maryland. Heather has worked in the youth development field for over 10 years. She currently serves in that role of executive director and in this capacity, she oversees the implementation of community school strategy for high schools, as well as other initiatives focused on leadership and advocacy, college and career readiness, and workforce development. And this includes a portfolio of grant-funded and consumer-funded programs and opportunities. Prior to joining the Y, she most recently served as the program manager of the community and school engagement at the family league of Baltimore. In this capacity, she was responsible for a network of over 20 community schools in 20 out-of-school time providers. Naviasky completed the Y USA’s leadership symposium and the Institute of Educational Leadership’s Education Policy Fellowship program. She graduated from the George Washington University with a degree in political science and a focus in public policy, and she’s currently pursuing her executive MBA at the University of Maryland, Robert H. Smith School of Business. So welcome Heather.

Kailanya Brailey:

Our third panelist is Quibilia Divine. She’s the chief program officer at SELF. Quibilia Divine joined SELF as director of programs in 2018 and was promoted to chief program officer in 2019. She directs year round planning, execution, and quality control of program activities throughout the self network of housing and human services. She ensures that participants have access to innovative programming that underscores their resiliency and advances their journey to self sufficiency and wellness. Outside of SELF Quibilia is an education advocate who works tirelessly to ensure that low-income children are provided equal access to high-quality education. She has over 20 years of experience educating students, enlightening families, and empowering communities as the founder and president of her own nonprofit agency, the Educational Advocates Reaching Today’s Hardworking Students, EARTHS. Quibilia is an advisory to parent power, chairs the community advisory board of community umbrella agency seven Northeast treatment centers, serves on the board of North Philly project, and serves on the community advisory board of Bebashi’s Health Enterprise Zone project. In 2020, Quibilia was selected to represent Pennsylvania on the Mid-Atlantic Equity Consortium’s state advisory council. As part of a diverse group of family and community members known as the Collaborative Action for Family Engagement, Quibilia lends her voice and expertise in ensuring that the experiences of low-income and homeless families are considered when high impact school, family, and community engagement strategies are developed in Pennsylvania.

Quibilia holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Marketing Management from Drexel University and two master’s degrees from Lincoln University, graduating summa cum laude both times. Welcome, Quibilia. Next. I’ll be reviewing our objectives for this afternoon’s webinar: to define homeless education, understand the challenges and changes that have impacted students and families who experience homelessness in the midst of COVID, to become familiar with services and resources available to students who experience homelessness, including McKinney-Vento coordinators, and lastly, to identify resources and tools that supports students and families who experience homelessness. Next.

Jessica Grotevant Webster:

And so with that, let’s jump right in with Karen Rice who’s going to talk to us about what homeless education is. Thank you, Karen.

Karen Rice:

Thank you so much. It’s wonderful to be with you all. Next slide, please. And you can… Next slide. Thanks. I want to just, before we start, jump in and tell you a little bit about our team at Schoolhouse Connection, as I was watching in the chat of where you are all coming from and joining from, I just want to make you aware that we have a team at Schoolhouse Connection who works from early childhood through higher education. So it looked like there were a few early childhood folks joining us. I would encourage you to check out our website and get familiar with our organization as that is an area that we are really trying to do a lot of work around young children experiencing homelessness. So just wanted to share that with you, but Schoolhouse Connection is a national nonprofit, and we advocate to overcome homelessness through education.

So we work with state policy and federal policy, as well as, like I said, early childhood through higher education. So I am excited to be here to talk with you, to give you a little bit of information about McKinney-Vento and just define what that looks like in the world of education and for students experiencing homelessness. Next. And next slide, please. Okay. So when we think about McKinney-Vento, it seems like maybe some of you are familiar with the law. A few of you mentioned it in the chat box, but for those who are not, McKinney-Vento is a homeless assistance act. And it is a federal law that is something that all public schools and charters, public charters have to follow to really provide support for children and youth experiencing homelessness across the country. So when we think about the McKinney-Vento definition of homelessness, we really want to think about who’s eligible. Who does this act cover, and how do we know who our students are who are experiencing homelessness?

So when we think about homelessness, we really want to think about our children and youth who lack fixed regular and adequate nighttime residents. So that’s how the McKinney-Vento definition of homelessness centers around that. But that really looks like a couple of different things. So we think about those who are sharing the housing of others. This could be due to loss of housing due to a natural disaster, eviction, things like that. It could be due to financial hardship of families who are unable to find their own place, who are not able to continue to live in their own housing ,or something similar to that. And when we think nationally about our statistics, approximately 75% across the country of our students who are in homeless situations fall under this category of sharing housing. We typically call it doubled up and refer to it as doubled up.

And so that’s anytime that shared housing is happening due to these reasons. So we recognize that not all shared living situations are McKinney-Vento eligible situations, but thinking through again, that lacking fixed regular and adequate nighttime residence is really the key piece to that. We also know that children and youth living in motels, hotels, trailer parks, camping grounds, those students are all also eligible under McKinney-Vento if they lack alternative adequate accommodations. So there are certainly instances where it might be a family choice to do that, and they could have housing in a different location or could be in a different situation. But this is really, again, due to that lack of alternatives. Families and youth who are living in shelters, living in cars, in parks, in other settings that are not meant to be places where people are residing. And we really think about that lacking adequate nighttime residents as that substandard housing piece. So we want to think about, is it really a space where a student is having their needs met? Their psychological needs, their emotional needs, their physical needs? Do they have electricity? Do they have a place to sleep? Or are they sleeping on the floor in the middle of a concrete basement? So we really want to think about those definitions and how we think about adequacy. Next slide, please.

So our statistics here are a little bit old, unfortunately, it’s hard to get real-time data when it comes to looking at students experiencing homelessness because it filters through several data systems before it’s released to the public and to those of us that track this data, but thinking through in the 2019, 2020 school year, this just gives a picture of what I mentioned. Again, roughly 75% of our students identified are doubled up or couch surfing, sleeping on someone else’s couch, and really in those shared housing situations. So this just gives a little bit more information and we anticipate, due to COVID and due to the update in numbers and data that it probably looks fairly similar, but due to COVID, there may be some additional unhoused and unsheltered families or living in hotels, motels, but roughly we anticipate that it’s about the same as far as current data. Next.

And then I always just like to share a little bit more about what homelessness looks like and painting a picture of what this looks like for our communities. So as you can see in this graphic, again, this is from the ’19, ’20 school year. It really is our students and families of color who are disproportionately affected by homelessness. And so it’s important to think about when we’re thinking about really what homelessness looks like in our community to just recognize that disproportionality.

Next slide, please. And this is just a little bit more information about that. I won’t go too into detail with this just because of our time constraints and wanting to make sure that we have enough time for everything. But as you can see again, just thinking through students of color, our LGBTQ students, particularly calling out transgender students are approximately nine times more likely to be experiencing homelessness and then pregnant and parenting teens. I think this is one that we don’t always consider, and we don’t always separate this data really, and look at it, but pregnant and parenting teens are 10 times more likely to experience homelessness compared to their peers who are not pregnant and parenting. And so we really just want to think about homelessness affects so many in our communities, but just really thinking through how it disproportionately affects some of these student groups and these vulnerable populations. Next. And I do want to call out unaccompanied youth. This is probably a term.

Karen Rice:

And I do want to call out unaccompanied youth. This is probably a term that you’ve heard in several other capacities that exist in a lot of different worlds, this phrase. But when we think about unaccompanied homeless youth, we really want to think about children and youth who are in those homeless situations that we just talked about, but then also not under the care of a parent or legal guardian. So we know many of our children and youth are unable to continue to be at home because of abuse, because of drug use and abuse. Parents may force youth out of the home because of their sexual orientation or their gender identity, again, because they’re pregnant or parenting youth.

And we typically think about these unaccompanied homeless youth as teenagers, who either run away from home or find themselves in situations where their parents are kicking them out of the house, things like that. But I do want to just note that children and youth can be any age and be unaccompanied. When I was in a district, I worked with a four year-old student who was identified as an unaccompanied homeless youth because his mom was unexpectedly incarcerated and he was bouncing around, sleeping on the couch of several different family members. And so it really can be a child of any age that meets this definition of unaccompanied. Next.

So this is a really quick overview of their rights under McKinney-Vento, but this federal law does give these protections to students. And so when we think about identifying our students under McKinney-Vento, we really want to think through the reason we do this is because students have rights to help them, and support them, and provide them with a safe and stable place to be. So the overall purpose of the McKinney-Vento Act is to really provide that educational stability when students might not have those stable places and those stable environments outside of school. So under McKinney-Vento, children and youth have the right to continue to attend the school that they were last attending. And this is a little bit messy and kind of a complicated… School of origin can be kind of complicated when we think about where students were last enrolled and where they were last attending.

But basically the premise of this is that we really want to make sure that students who are connected to their schools and to school staff and to their peers have that stability as much as we possibly can. We want it to be a safe and stable place for children and youth to be. Children and youth will also have the right to receive transportation to and from the school, to enroll in school immediately without immunization or other health records. I know this is a big one in the time of COVID and things like that. When my children registered for school, we were asked for their vaccination records. And so for children and youth experiencing homelessness, we know they don’t always have that documentation and they don’t always have it with them. And so the whole purpose of McKinney-Vento is to get those children and youth and enrolled as soon as possible, regardless of those other pieces, and then work with the family to make sure that they can access them.

And thinking through school enrollment often involves some kind of proof of a permanent address. And we really, again, want students to be enrolled without having to worry about that. We know families who bounce around, who are highly mobile, who are in shelters and motels, who are sleeping on someone else’s couch, they don’t always have that documentation of where they’re residing. And so again, that cannot be a barrier to students who are enrolling in school. We want to make sure that children and youth have access to the same programs and services that their peers have. They are also eligible for free school meals, as well as other school supplies and things like that. It might include hygiene products and things of that nature that really help provide those basic needs for students to be successful at school. And so if you are in a program, or you’re school district staff, it’s important to kind of find out how to access those to be able to provide them to children and youth.

And then an important piece is referrals to community organizations to meet other needs. So we know that schools can’t do everything for everyone all the time. And so it’s important to really be connected. And for those of you that work out of school, time programming and things like that, to know that the homeless liaisons in school districts are going to look to you to have places for students to go and options for students to have. And those referrals back and forth will be really important. But we’ll talk more about that in a little bit. Next.

Okay. I just want to very quickly give you a kind of a closer look at some of these really key areas to McKinney-Vento. These are kind of the hot topics, the big ones under the law. Next slide, please. So thinking through school of origin, and the right to remain in the school of origin, we know that often children and youth might be identified at the beginning of a school year and then by December or November or February those students might be in a permanently housed situation.

And so McKinney-Vento covers those students for the entire academic year, again, with the sole purpose of maintaining that stability. We don’t want students who find housing to have to transfer schools in the middle of a school year. So McKinney-Vento does cover for the entire academic year in which the student has been identified. So the school of origin is the school that the child was last enrolled and attending. And so again, thinking through those connections and why those are so important for students to maintain relationships with staff and other students and their peers really provides that stability. So McKinney-Vento presumes that keeping the student in the school of origin is in their best interest. Certainly, there may be times when it’s not, depending on where the school of origin is in relation to where the student is residing. But again, for stability purposes, we really look to that and presume that that’s in the best interest of children. Next.

Transportation is a big one. We know that transportation is very challenging, especially in these COVID times with bus driver shortages and staff shortages, but children and youth have the right to receive transportation to and from their school of origin. And this is really particularly important to make sure that that’s not a barrier for students to be in school and participating. And this does include extracurricular activities. So we want to make sure that our children and youth can participate in the activities that their peers are participating in, and those things that will really engage them further in their education. And so there’s a lot of creative ways that districts can transport students and provide that transportation, but it really is important to remove that barrier. Next.

And then, finally, I mentioned this about immediate enrollment, but we want to think about what are the barriers that exist to enrolling children and youth in school? And I think this really also translates to what the barriers are to enroll into different programming and thinking through your out of school time programs, certainly programs that are outside of the public school realm don’t have the same requirement under the law, but I think it’s still a really good idea to consider what are those barriers that might be a part of the process to enroll in your programs and how can you work with families and help remove those barriers? How can you partner with your local school district to maybe get some of the information that the family doesn’t have? If a homeless liaison is able to help a family access health records, for example, can you partner back and forth? Can the family give permission to share those records with you so that you’re removing barriers similarly to how the schools are required to do that? Next.

And then finally, just again thinking through the piece of removing barriers, it’s so important for students and children and youth that who are experiencing homelessness to not have all of these barriers that our systems create so that they can really access their education and be successful. So we want to think about, are there fees, are there fines, are there outstanding balances, things like that are creating those barriers? And we want to look at our policies to review and revise those so that those things aren’t a barrier. And I think, again, thinking through your programs that may or may not be affiliated with school districts, are there ways that you can do this and partner with school districts and homeless liaisons to make sure that those things aren’t a barrier for your programs as well?

Okay. I can continue with how COVID has really impacted students and families experiencing homelessness. Next slide, please.

So we know that there have been so many challenges and, in these last few years of just our pandemic time, really homelessness and children and youth experiencing homelessness have faced so many more barriers. And so thinking through, in terms of just identifying those students and reaching out to those students, we know that increased mobility been a huge challenge that children and youth who might have been staying at someone’s house and sharing housing, if they were exposed to COVID, if they were needing to quarantine, they often had to leave those situations and find other places to go because other people staying at that house of family members didn’t want to be exposed to COVID. We know that shelters had really limited capacity during COVID to try to minimize some of the COVID spread. And so just that increased mobility really made it challenging to think about how we’re reaching out to our children and youth and how they’re really engaging with schools and other programs.

It was definitely a challenge to main maintain contact with students, especially our unaccompanied homeless youth. And we know that identification was a huge, huge challenge during COVID. We know many children and youth kind of fell off the radar in terms of their connection to school. They were not engaging in online and virtual learning, and they might have moved. They might have moved several times, and just maintaining that contact in order to identify those children and youth was really a big challenge.

Speaking very generally about data, we know that during COVID our numbers of children and youth identified dropped, but in actuality, those numbers were actually much higher. So it’s just that challenge with identification and finding those children and making sure they understand their rights and their eligibility. And really just kind of connecting with those who were not engaged or who may have moved to another state or another community, identification was a big challenge. And so when we think about data, we know there was a drop in our data, and our drop in our numbers identified when, in reality, that number is actually much larger, and as students are re-engaging and coming back to school and in-person, we know those numbers are going to go back up in terms of identification. Next.

We know there were also challenges with distance and virtual learning. And if you have any connections to school, you know that this was definitely a challenge during the time of COVID, as far as technology, internet, internet signals in rural parts of our country and in our rural communities, even with hotspots and the best intentions with wifi, it was very difficult for many students to really engage in that virtual learning. There was a lack of devices, I think, when COVID hit and all of our schools closed, everybody was doing their best to get their hands on computers and Chromebooks and hotspots. And that was just a really big challenge, and a challenge to make sure that everybody had what they needed in order to be engaging.

We know that many families who live in substandard housing, who might not have access to electricity, that was a challenge even with charging their devices. When they had Chromebooks and the batteries ran out, they had to find other creative ways to do that. And when a lot of places and things were closed, that was not always something that they could find a way to do that with.

We also know that just having that environment conducive to learning has just been a really big challenge due to COVID. When we had students who were doing distance and virtual learning, we know that they often had challenges with being in environments where they couldn’t turn their camera on. They were sitting in the middle of a shelter and there were people around, or they were in a situation in their housing that they didn’t want that on camera, they didn’t want their peers or their teachers to kind of see what their home environment was.

And then of course, the lack of transportation to pick up their internet hotspots, to drive to try to get an internet signal, picking up devices and things like that. Next.

And just in particular for our unaccompanied homeless youth, we know that it was a challenge with isolation, that our unaccompanied homeless youth really struggled with being isolated and caught off from that support network that they have at school with their peers and with school staff. When they were having to quarantine, in particular, finding a place to go and a place to be that was safe was very difficult. And just that lack of mentorship and academic support, those connections that unaccompanied homeless youth have at school are crucial, and it was harder to do that in a virtual world.

And then we also know that many of our unaccompanied youth, especially our older youth, had to work to support their families. With families losing jobs and with hours being cut and things like that during all of the closures, we had a lot of youth across the country that we learned that they were going to work to help support their families. And so they weren’t always engaging in school during our regular school hours because they were really trying to support their families during that time.

And then just thinking specifically about young children, we know that for young children in particular this was very challenging. Having food insecurity was a huge concern, and having physical safety in the locations where they were staying. If parents or siblings or guardians were going off to work during the day, we know that it was hard for young children to have a safe place to really be able to engage in school, but also just to have a place where they had someone to take care of them, someone to help meet their needs.

We know that COVID affected, certainly affected mental health and development for our young children. There was a significant lack of childcare during COVID for our youngest children. And then thinking through preschool, it was a challenge. Virtual preschool I don’t think even existed in the state that I live in, and so we had those children with no academic support. It was hard to figure out what programs they might be eligible for, hard to complete that information, and just lack of access to those programs was particularly challenging. Next.

And then, really briefly, mental health and basic needs. This was probably one of the biggest concerns that we heard about during COVID. Again, access to places to go for isolation, for quarantine, for those that had COVID and needed a place to recover, and safe spaces to be in. Food insecurity was a huge concern during COVID, and I believe it still is a concern. It’s still ongoing. Access to health and hygiene, we know schools are a place where that is usually something that schools can help with, is something that your programs and your out of school time can help with. And so lack of access to those was very significant.

And then finally, just thinking through increased mental health stressors. As someone who was not in a homeless situation, it was very difficult to navigate the pandemic. And so compounding with the stressors of experiencing homelessness and trying to find places to go and having food insecurity, it was a very significant mental health time for a lot of our children and youth who are still trying to seek services and support for that.

And I’ll be very quick with this, again, I mentioned our data before. We do know that our data, our numbers of students identified, dropped during the pandemic. We do anticipate, as we look out and kind of plan out ahead, our numbers will go back up. And we do know that probably they will go up past pre pandemic levels because we have more and more families with moratoriums ending and community supports kind of coming to a close and wrapping up in some places. We know that our numbers will continue to increase.

And then, very briefly, access to vaccines and testing was a huge barrier during COVID. There are some states that do have healthcare laws for unaccompanied youth to have access to routine healthcare, including things like testing and vaccines. There are many places that do not. And so this is absolutely a barrier for children and youth who needed to get PCR tests to come back to school and were unable to access those. And so just kind of thinking through what McKinney-Vento requires, that they have access to immediate enrollment, but also what those healthcare laws are for our unaccompanied youth.

Kailanya Brailey:

So much rich information, Karen, thank you so much for that information on homeless education, McKinney-Vento, and discussing for us how COVID has impacted our students and families experiencing homelessness. Thank you. We are going to transition now into discussing how OST providers and community organizations can support students and their families. And we’ll actually start with Heather. Heather, how can OST providers and community organizations support students and their families?

Heather Naviasky:

Perfect. I’m happy to be here. Hi everyone. Again, I’m Heather Naviasky with the Y in Central Maryland. Next, please.

Sure. So I’m going to be talking about one of our programs, but I like to ground everything we do in data. So the program I’m going to be talking about, these are our numbers from last summer, and so you can kind of get an idea of what we’re going to be discussing. We had a 97% retention rate through the entire summer. This is all with youth experiencing homelessness. 90% of the participants improved on at least one of our indicators, so 21st century skills, career readiness, college readiness, across all of our data and evaluation.

And then, second, 80… Or, sorry, third, 82% of our employers would hire our interns. But if you look on the right, that 100%, I haven’t seen a 100% in quite a while. At the start of the program, 80% of participants were optimistic about their future and at the end a hundred percent were. And so, as we think about what we’re going to be talking about, that’s really a key indicator for us, with everything that went on during the pandemic, and generally for this specific population, seeing that a hundred percent really felt confident and optimistic about what’s next, really drives our vision for this work. Next.

So I jumped really far ahead and now I’m going to take us back for a moment. At the Y, in our teen portfolio specifically, and this is the Y in Central Maryland, we support over 6,000 teenagers every single day. And when I say teenagers, I’m talking pretty broad of that 14 to 21 category, and you’ll see a couple of things highlighted. One, a lot of our strategy is grounded in our community schoolwork, where we partner as the lead agency to provide key resources in our school buildings that we partner with. Two, we try to deepen all of our relationships. And so next generation scholars is, again, another workforce development program. And New Horizons II, which served 103 youth last year, is the program I’m going to be talking about that supports our youth experiencing homelessness in Baltimore city and Baltimore County. But, as you look across all of these, and as we think about the work, we really think about it as a network of connectivity and supports and opportunities. And so we never look at them in isolation, but really about how all of them can reinforce each other. Next.

So it’s not really a great picture of our program, but this is our program in the pandemic. This is New Horizons II. To tell you a little bit about it, again, it’s a program, supports 14 to 21 year olds. We’ve been operating it for 21 years. I will tell you that none of those 21 years, although I can’t speak to the first 15, have looked the same. We, again, serve 105 students, Baltimore city and Baltimore County. We recruit them through all of those different partnerships I mentioned, but predominantly through our partners in the school districts. And so once we get the students into the program, it’s really focused on workforce development with a high, high focus on social emotional learning. Because we know that, when we’re preparing students for workforce, we need to make sure they have the additional supports they needed to feel connected, and like they have a community and they have a support system to really be successful in the next steps of their life.

And so, as we work with those different partners, we’re braiding multiple resources from the school district, from our departments of economic and workforce development, and then from local and state funders. This has allowed us to sustain the program. And so if one level of funding disappears, we have backup to kind of reinforce and make sure they’re connected, because we know consistency is so important with this population to keep them connected. Next.

So to dive into what this program actually looks like, traditionally it is a seven week summer program. In the first week of the program, we’re welcoming students and families into the spaces. We operated virtually the last two years and hybrid somewhat last year, a little bit, and in-person this year, but it’s seven weeks. The first week is completely focused on training and development and community building. Weeks two through six are focused on a hybrid of that. So they do training in the morning, focused on all those different skill sets and everything you need to be successful, financial literacy, we do resumes and cover letters, we talk about teamwork and how to have those hard conversations with your boss. And then we put it into practice in the afternoon with internships.

I will note, though, that every single one of these experiences is a paid opportunity. As Karen mentioned, those students have a choice, and a lot of them have to make a choice around either having employment somewhere else or the opportunity to learn and experience this. And so making sure all the opportunities are paid is really important to us throughout that entire experience.

And so they’ll go through this, they’ll do their internship, and then the last week is an intensive internship program. They’re there 40 hours a week, paid for all that time. They do interviews and then hopefully they have a job opportunity at the end. It is high school students, though and so we work really hard to make sure they have some other exposure opportunities, things like trips to.

Heather Naviasky:

Some other exposure opportunities, things like trips to colleges and different career spaces. We did an HBCU tour, we’ve done a Freedom Ride tour, everything that kind of works to reinforce that learning and community building together. Next.

There’s a lot going on, and I’ll definitely answer any questions that may come at the end of this, but one of the things that’s really important to us as we go through this process and work with this specific population is that youth voice is captured, acted on, and heard. And so we work with an external evaluator to capture all this data. They do a pre and post test, we survey our employers, we survey the students every single week so that we get their feedback immediately and can act on it. We know this population chooses with their feet. And so when you think about that retention rate, it’s really important for us to act on that feedback and act on it quickly.

It also helps us build those relationships. But most importantly, and I could talk about our team for this entire time, but 93% of the teens evaluated said that the associates they work with support and care about them. And, at the end of the day, that’s why they’re coming back to the program. That’s why they’re coming back to this space, because they feel valued and supported. They know that when they say something, we’re going to actually shift the program to meet their needs. They’ve told us things like, their partner’s not culturally competent. And so we work with a partner to train them and potentially even remove them if they’re not meeting the needs of our students. And so when we’re thinking about that retention, the value, and everything like that, that’s the most important piece to us. And I think it shows up for our team and for our students when you kind of see the results and our engagement levels. And that is everything I have right now. Thank you.

Jessica Grotevant Webster:

Thank you so much, Heather. It’s wonderful to have an example of a program that’s really impacting the students that we’re talking about. So thank you for sharing that with us. We are now going to head over to hear from Quibilia, who’s going to talk to us about supporting students experiencing homelessness from her experience in Philadelphia. So thank you very much, Quibilia.

Quibila Divine:

Thank you. Good afternoon, everyone. I’m Quibilia Divine, Chief Program Officer at SELF. Next slide, please.

I want to start off by giving you a little bit of information about SELF, it’s an acronym standing for Strengthening and Empowering Lives and Futures, Inc. We were founded about 30 years ago by Dr. Sylvester Outley, who himself was not only homeless, but also had been incarcerated. And during the time that he was incarcerated, decided that he wanted to make a better life for himself, not only for himself, but also for those that were like him, and decided that he wanted to form an organization that would do that. And 30 years later, here we are. We are Philadelphia’s largest emergency and temporary housing provider. And we service about 700 individuals each day. Next slide.

Our mission is to motivate, empower, and inspire individuals to live their best lives. And we envision that our best practices and evidence-based programming will pave the way for personal and community transformation. Next slide, please.

What I’d like for you to consider is that there is a liaison that’s been assigned to a school-based… A school district liaison that has been assigned for the purpose of servicing homeless students. A lot of times, some students may feel embarrassment from the standpoint of just talking about being homeless, and their parents may be embarrassed. When you’re talking about couch surfing, those who are sleeping on someone’s couch and staying at a neighbor or a relative’s home, they may not be counted. So we don’t actually get to know how many people are actually homeless. And it’s also important to partner with community-based organizations, reach out to them, to see what services they may be able to provide to those families and students as well as faith-based organizations. Another overlooked resource is elected officials as well as those who are appointed officials, those who are working in our city agencies, our state agencies, and federal agencies. Next slide, please.

Some of SELF’s programs, we service individuals experiencing homelessness from those that are actually on the street to those… And we strive to take them, provide them with case management services and other supports, and then get them to the point where they’re, not only permanently housed, but also possibly working with our organization SELF Incorporated. So one of the services that we provide is peer outreach. We actually go out in the street, talk to people who are on the street homeless, and ask them, do they want a place to stay? If so, then we would encourage them to come to one of our emergency temporary sites. We have about eight of those currently. And we also provide a Phoenix Community Center, which gives people who are staying on the street an opportunity to wash their clothes, take a shower, get something warm to drink if it’s cold and something cold to drink if it’s warm.

We also have a Safe Haven, which provides individuals who may not want to stay in a real emergency shelter an opportunity to just continue to use drugs, if that’s what they’re doing, continue to drink and do whatever they want to do without any kind of stereotyping, being treated any differently. We also have a SELF+ Cooperative program. That is our permanent supportive housing. We have housing support coaches, four housing support coaches that assist those individuals who were formerly homeless. And now we partnered with the office of homeless services, which is a city agency, as well as our Philadelphia Housing Association, another city agency, in order to provide 35 units. And, within those 35 units, we have a 145 individuals that have been housed. And we did that in under one year.

16 of those are families, 68 of those are children, and 61 of them are adults, some of whom are sharing the unit. So we have three unrelated adults sharing a unit in some of those homes. We also have a housing specialist who works with our emergency and temporary housing programs in order to ensure that our participants are transitioned from being homeless to being permanently housed.

Our Way Home program services those who are LGBTQ+ and puts them in rapid rehousing opportunities where we pay the rent for one year. And we’re able to do that by having secured a grant. And our SELF Advocates are our homeless participants who actually work with SELF in order to provide various different services. We’ve had SELF Advocates go out to various different communities and talk about harm reduction. We had them become vaccination ambassadors. We’ve also had them talk to families who have school-aged children about free internet service. And also we’ve had them serve as census assistance. They have assisted with the 2020 census.

And the last program that we have is our SELF+ Mobility program, and that one provides homeless individuals to be able to get trained, learn about the various different employment opportunities that we have here at SELF. Upon going through a four week cohort… We have four cohorts and we’re currently in our second cohort with this program. After going through the cohort, they have an opportunity to actually get employment with SELF so they can be employed. $15 an hour is the minimum salary that they would be able to earn, but there are higher salary positions that are also available. Next slide, please.

These are just some of the resources that are available. I chose National Resources, primarily because I figured most people are from all over the country. The last one is the Pennsylvania Department of Education for those who are in Pennsylvania. Next slide, please.

I wanted to leave this quote with you. It’s all right to tell a man or a woman to lift himself or herself by his own bootstraps, but it is a cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps. And that’s a quote by Martin Luther King Jr.

Last slide is my contact information. We welcome your partnership. We welcome the partnerships of those who are currently our partners, and this is how you can contact me.

Kailanya Brailey:

Thank you, Quibilia, very powerful quote and very powerful work that SELF is doing. So again, Quibilia, thank you so much for sharing with us. We’re going to transition now to discussing what OST providers can do if they discover that their students are experiencing homelessness. And we’re going to hear from Karen again with SchoolHouse Connection. What can OST providers do if they discover their students are experiencing homelessness?

Karen Rice:

Thank you so much. Next slide please. So I’ll try to be really brief with some of these, but just thinking about some of the challenges that students have, these are really signs and indications for OST providers to really kind of keep on their radar. Some of them are specific to school, but I’ll talk more about why that partnership is so important.

So when we think about students who are really highly mobile, and we think about students who are moving between schools or moving between OST programs, they may come for a short period of time and leave for a period of time and come back, really kind of that in and out and that mobility, kind of those gaps, the attendance pieces, those are really significant indications that there might be more going on with the student’s living situation.

Thinking through things like hygiene, medical and dental needs, students who may come to your programs wearing the same clothes for multiple days in a row may be related to some of the hygiene concerns. Students who are exhausted and really may not be getting enough sleep, that fatigue can really be an indication that there might be something going on with the student’s living situation.

Thinking through some of the social and behavioral challenges, there may be maybe challenges with forming relationships with either their peers or with adults in your programs, a poor attention span. There may be some anxiety late in the school day as the child or youth is thinking about they don’t know where they’re going to go that night and they don’t know where they’re going to be sleeping.

And then thinking through kind of a lack of participation in kind of those extra things. So that might include if your program is doing a field trip, or if you have a special activity, particularly if there’s an extra cost or it extends the length of a program, that might be really anxiety-producing to a student who doesn’t know, how will I get home at the end of that? How will we pay for that? How will we afford that? And there may be, of course, resources for that, but that lack of participation can be an indication that there might be something going on that you can provide some additional support around. Next.

We’re transitioning out of the virtual world, I think, in many places, and as schools are getting back into that in-person learning more and more, but again, just thinking through, are there concerns with what’s in the background of where a child might be in a virtual environment? Are there a lot of people? Are they outdoors? Are they in a public area? Are they unreachable? Are you having trouble getting ahold of them to even engage in your programming? Are they unwilling to turn on their cameras because they don’t want you to see the environment that they’re in? So these are a few of the kind of potentials in that virtual world. Next.

So somebody mentioned this, I think it might have been Quibilia, but every LEA, every public school must designate a homeless liaison. And so this is really kind of where that partnership comes in. And it’s really, really important that people who are in OST programs or our service providers in that way, really have a connection with the homeless liaison. So as we’re thinking through these signs and these things to look for, if you have concerns and you’re not sure what to do about it, you don’t know how to have that conversation, these are the people that are responsible to identify students. So you can take those concerns and those questions to these people at school districts, and it’s their job to ask the hard questions, to have those hard conversations, and then to identify those students. So it’s important to know who these people are, but I think part of the role of the homeless liaison is to be posting public notice, to build awareness around McKinney-Vento and those rights.

And so if you can collaborate and partner with that homeless liaison, your space might be a place to do that and to post something that can say, hey, if you’re in a homeless situation, or if you’re struggling with your housing, here’s who you can reach out to also at your school, at your child’s school.

And then training is a really key piece of the role of the homeless liaison in school districts. And some of the best partnerships that I have heard of are those homeless liaisons who go to those OST programs or those community programs and are also providing that training on McKinney-Vento to say, it’s not your job to identify, you don’t have to kind of weed through some of the details of a family situation, but here’s who you can contact, and here’s what you can do if you do have that concern. And then also those kind of referrals back and forth of, I identified this family, they’re looking for some support and some programming options, I’d like to connect you with them, things like that.

I do want to just note that a student’s homeless status is protected under FERPA. And so if you have concerns about a student and you think they might be in a homeless situation, I’m going to reach out to the homeless liaison, you very likely may not hear back from the homeless liaison on whether or not they were identified. So it’s kind of going back to that is there a legitimate educational need to know, but still continue to make those referrals, they’re very important. Next slide please.

So these are kind of more from the liaison perspective and that identification from the school perspective, but I think what I’d really like to highlight here is there really is opportunities to kind of embed questions and information about homelessness into any enrollment paperwork or brochures that you’re handing out in your programs, any of the outreach that you’re doing. So that families who come in, if they have paperwork they need to complete or if they’re looking for resources, that you’ve got that information at your fingertips to hand out to families and to say, “Hey, I know who the homeless liaison is. I can connect you with that person, or you can connect with that person,” and to really have those connections.

And then really that community partnership is just so important. And when we think about our children and youth experiencing homelessness, those community partnerships are critical to provide really that whole child support. Schools can’t do all of the things and your programs can’t do all of the things. And so really partnering with those resources and coming together to support children and youth really provides that more holistic approach. Next slide please.

And so again, I would say it’s not your job to identify children and youth, but I think these are really good strategies for anybody, even if you’re thinking about families who have expressed concerns about housing instability. So first I would say, try to avoid using the word homeless as much as you can. There’s a stigma around that that we know of, or families who may be in shared housing situations don’t see themselves as homeless, even though under McKinney-Vento they are. So when we talk about it at SchoolHouse, and when I was working for the state of Wisconsin, we really intentionally tried to use that person-first language. So if we use the word homeless, it’s a child or youth experiencing homelessness. So they are a child or a youth first, and homelessness is just a product of their environment right now, but it’s not who they are.

That training for all staff is critical. I think making those referrals back and forth to the homeless liaison is important. And so all staff, teachers, food service providers, bus drivers, transportation people in your programs, anybody who’s interacting with students may hear from a child or a youth that they had a change in housing, they were kicked out of their home, they’re sleeping on someone’s couch somewhere. And so if all staff are aware of McKinney-Vento, and what to do if they hear that from a child, that’ll help with identification, it’ll help to support those kids.

And then of course, just really those relationships are key, and across the country I think that’s the number one thing you’ll hear of when you think about identifying students is building those trusting relationships. Being discreet and sensitive, if a child or youth shares with me, “Hey, I got kicked out of my house. I’m sleeping on so-and-so’s couch.” “Okay, this is when I’m going to do with this information. This is who I’m going to share it with. I’m only going to talk to the homeless liaison. We can do it together, if you would prefer, how can I support you? How can I help you?” But just that transparency of, I do want to share this with the homeless liaison so you can get some additional support, but doing that will help really build those trusting relationships so that families and children feel free to come to you and to help them understand what options that they have. Next slide, please.

And then just finally thinking through those partnerships. I mentioned this, I’ve mentioned it several times now, but this is kind of my drum beat here with you all. These partnerships with school district homeless liaisons are just so important. Do you know who that person is? Do you know who to contact? Do you know who to reach out to? This is like single-handedly the most important thing you can do to identify and support children in your programs, because schools are required by law to provide these supports. So you may be able to do that in your programs, but we want to make sure, when they’re coming from your programs and from their time, that they’re transitioning seamlessly into a school that’s also going to be able to support them and provide that stability.

Thinking through, what are the needs of students experiencing homelessness in your community? What needs can you support as an OST provider or a community program provider? What ways can you partner with the school district to make sure those needs are met? And then what existing opportunities are there to really make sure that the homeless liaison knows what you do and who you can serve and what options are available for students.

So I think that’s really, really important when we think about, if a homeless liaison is enrolling a new student and that student is identified under McKinney-Vento, they know who to say, “Okay, I have this program that you can also connect with. Here’s the name of that person, let’s reach out to them together.” And there’s really that two-way partnership, I think is absolutely critical.

One last kind of final thought about this is if there’s the option to develop an MOU between your programs and the school district, to really have that direct pipeline to connect with each other and make those referrals back and forth, I highly recommend that. Some of the most successful partnerships I have seen have those MOUs in place so that everything is purposeful and legitimate with the information that’s being shared and things. So I really just encourage you to really think about how you can increase and enhance these partnerships. And these are just a few of our SchoolHouse resources that talk more about this. So feel free to check out our website too. Thanks.

Kailanya Brailey:

Next. Karen, thank you so much, just a wealth of information and we have Karen’s contact information posted as well. And by way of a brief review and actually a perfect segue from Karen’s information, we just want to make sure our OST providers know who to reach out to at the school and district levels with their student concerns. Next. Next.

Thank you. So these are different names that this role may be called, and please note that even this is not exhaustive. But in the summer, if you know the specific school your child attends in the district, we do recommend that you reach out to school administration, that’s going to be your building principal or assistant principal. But during the school year, any of the above titles would be able to help you find supports for a student, could be a director of student services, homeless education liaison, school counselors, building principals, homeless student assistant, a district or school social worker, or a McKinney-Vento Coordinator. So you may hear the title called any of those names, or even something else that we haven’t listed, but during the summer you definitely want to reach out to school administration if you have a concern about any of your students. I’m now going to shift over to Jessica as we move into Q&A.

Jessica Grotevant Webster:

Thanks, Kailanya. So we’re going to jump in with some questions for our panelists. And I think Nikevia will be helping us with any that are in the question, answer questions. But I think we want to just start out by asking, after everything we’ve heard today, as specialists in this field with people with much experience, are there any other issues or concerns or key takeaways that we have not addressed today that you would like our.

Jessica Grotevant Webster:

… Today, that you would like our webinar to know, about supporting students experiencing homelessness, especially during the summer. Anything we missed.

Quibila Divine:

I think… If you don’t mind me starting.

Jessica Grotevant Webster:


Quibila Divine:

I think that it’s important for us to serve as advocates, so that children know that there’s someone that they can go to, without any judgment, without any problem, and that they will be listened to, because a lot of times, children and youth just feel that, “Well, they won’t listen to me anyway.” So it’s very important for them to feel as if they have an advocate.

Jessica Grotevant Webster:

And to piggyback on that, I also feel like, as a child, sharing information about your family, and I think you all kind of touched on this before, can be very personal in the idea of, “I don’t want my family to get in trouble. I don’t want anyone to be in trouble because I shared something that I’m not supposed to share,” is a really big thing. So building those relationships, and knowing that we’re there to really listen, is very important in encouraging those conversations. Yeah. Thank you.

Heather Naviasky:

Yeah. The one thing I’ll add to that conversation is, I mean, relationships are definitely at the key and core of this work. And so, showing up consistently, and taking a step back, and really listening, I think is really important. And the other piece I’ll say, especially with our older youth, is, if they’re already in a space where they’re sharing an experience, they can be leaders in that space as well. And there’s a lot of training and development you can do with your older youth, to make sure that they have the language, and they have the support, that they can have those conversations that are a bit tougher around a shared experience. And they’re our best advocates, and they’re our best support systems for youth in this space. And so, we definitely don’t want to put too much on them, but there’s a huge opportunity to create capacity, with them, and for them.

Kailanya Brailey:

Thank you, both. Our next question… What would your advice be for an OST provider who is seeing red flags, but is not comfortable approaching the family, because they don’t feel they know them well enough, or they’re afraid of alienating or offending the family? We’ve talked a lot about how sensitive that topic is, and how difficult it may be for even students to talk about. If you have an OST provider who’s seeing red flags, how would you advise them?

Karen Rice:

My advice, from a school perspective, is, don’t feel like you have to have those conversations. You can be building that relationship and building that trust, but be that support person for the family, to refer them to a homeless liaison. Homeless liaisons, in general, are trained well in having those conversations. They have a lot of tools to know what questions to ask, and how to do that sensitively. And so, because the homeless liaison in a school district is going to have to ask those questions anyway, for their own identification, having the family share their story and their situation twice can really be a barrier to a family wanting to do that, and to be identified.

So I think, again, I would say those partnerships are critical, to share those concerns with the homeless liaison and let the homeless liaison have the hard conversation. And you can come alongside the family as a support. You can have that conversation together, and to be there as their support person while they talk with the homeless liaison. But I think it’s always appropriate to say, “Hey, I might know how your family could get some additional support at school. I’d love to help you connect with this person. Let’s call together, or let’s set up a time for us to meet together,” and just really, to provide that partnership alongside the family, to let the homeless liaison really do that identification.

Quibila Divine:

I think it’s also important to understand that the family, the student, they have rights. And should they decide that they do not want to get any services that you think that they may need, it’s okay. And we have to be mindful, to expand our thinking about what family means. So you may think that they’re homeless, but they may be chilling out with aunt so-and-so, or uncle so-and-so, so it’s okay. Let’s think in broad terms about what a family is, and the fact that families are different today than they were 30 years ago. So as long as we’re mindful of those things, we should be okay.

Heather Naviasky:

I guess the only piece I would add to that… I agree… Is to just not set definitions for people, along with what was just shared. Everybody is very much aware of their own experience, and defining it for them definitely doesn’t help build trust when you’re thinking about bringing people into your space. And there are lots of pieces around just making sure you know what resources exist, again, who those people are. But people will tell you what they need, if you listen to them. And so, making sure that you understand what spaces and places exist around you, who you can refer people to, what you have on site, all of those pieces. So just, I think, reinforcing the safety and relationship side of it is just really important, so that people know that they can come to you, to even access those spaces and places.

Jessica Grotevant Webster:

Thank you. That’s wonderful. I’m going to jump down to a later question that I think is related to what we’ve been talking about, in the same vein. And that is, what do you think the biggest assumptions or misunderstandings are, related to youth experiencing homelessness? And I think you touched on a few of these things, but if we could unpack that a little bit further, that would be great.

Heather Naviasky:

It’s tough. I think Karen shared it in one of her slides. I think most of the youth we work with wouldn’t define themselves as experiencing homelessness, right? And so, there’s such a stigma tied to that word and that experience, that, if you just take a moment and look at someone as a person… Right? And again, I think it goes back to that… How you define people, what labels you put on people before understanding who they are, what they want, how they want to be treated. But that component of it, of defining people, I think, is actually what derails you first in that experience.

Quibila Divine:

I think it’s important to ensure that we’re offering students who may be experiencing homelessness an opportunity, or the same, similar opportunities as we’re offering any other student who’s there. So, college prep courses, high academic courses, opportunities to participate in sports, all of those things, we have to provide them with similar opportunities. And don’t think that because they may be experienced, or we may think that they’re experiencing homelessness, that they would not want to participate. The other thing is that it’s very important that we hold schools accountable for using their Title I funds in the way and manner in which they’re supposed to be used, in assisting homeless students and their families. So if we need to get community-based organizations, other families, other neighbors involved in that fight, then so be it. Let’s do that. But a lot of schools are not using their Title I money the way they’re supposed to be doing, for low income families, ensuring that they’re getting high quality education.

Karen Rice:

I would also add in… Heather touched on this as well. Just the lack of understanding about what homelessness looks like. And so, without going down this rabbit trail, there are different definitions of homelessness that exist in our country. And I think that can really be a barrier, that families, often, who share housing, and have that shared housing experience, in some situations, that is not considered homelessness by some definitions. And yet, by McKinney-Vento, in a school setting, it absolutely is. And so, it’s just really building that awareness to what that looks like. And if you’re sharing housing because you have nowhere else to go, you were evicted, things like that, that that’s absolutely a homeless situation, and those children and youth have rights under McKinney-Vento. And so, I think it’s really that awareness-building.

And also, the law requires that children and youth have those opportunities to participate in all of the things that engage them to school. And so, I would just also really echo that, of, whatever programs are available, whatever extracurricular activities, whatever those barriers are, children and youth have rights to access all of those. So whether it’s figuring out creative ways to pay for a musical instrument rental, or using Title I funds to provide extra services, whatever that looks like, there are so many options and so many ways to do that.

And the caveat is, we hear all the time, McKinney-Vento is an unfunded mandate, and that is true. Schools are required to provide all of these services without extra funding. But there really are funding sources available. And so, Title I funds are available right now. We’re working with the ARP-HCY, the American Rescue Plan-Homeless Children and Youth funds that are available to support students. There are sub-grants available. So we really want to make sure that we’re figuring out those funding sources that can best support children and youth… Excuse me… So they can be engaging in participating in all of these ways that connect them to school, and build those relationships and supports.

Kailanya Brailey:

Thank you. Thank you all. We do have a couple of guest questions, and so, we want to make sure our participants get their questions answered as well. So our next question asks, are some of these programs… Are they available to be shared state-to-state or county-to-county, if resources aren’t available in a current state or county area?

Quibila Divine:

The information that I put, or that’s in the PowerPoint, that I have… Most were national. So they are resources that would be able to be used state-to-state, county-to-county.

Heather Naviasky:

I can share my information too, to kind of talk through how we’ve blended and braided funds that we’ve done. We haven’t worked in other states for this program, but happy to share how we’ve built it over time.

Karen Rice:

I think the unique thing about McKinney-Vento is that it is a federal requirement, and a federal law. And so, if you have students moving from state to state, or community to community, McKinney-Vento is still a requirement for all that are enrolled in public schools and public charter schools. And so, for resources, I think there’s a lot of national resources for that very reason, because it really does apply across the country.

Jessica Grotevant Webster:

And I would say, from my own experience, just building up networks, whether individuals are in your local area or not, that the idea of the brain trust, right? Being able to say, “Oh, I learned about this program in Maryland, and I’ve connected with the person. I’ve got all these great ideas. What parts of it can we do here?” Those are really powerful ways to get services for students. And being able to say, “Right, I went through this creative funding. I looked at these grants. I used my funds this way. Did you know Title I funds can be used for these sorts of things,” really does empower our ability to advocate for our students. So I encourage people to really reach out and make those calls to people, and say, “Hey, I saw you were, or I heard you were doing something really great. Do you have time to talk to me about it and let me know how you did what you did?”

And I’m always so grateful for the time people take out of their schedules to do that, because they see it as advocating for all students, not just the students that they serve. So I think that’s a great way to do that. Thank you. We have another question that I think is important to clarify, from Karen, when… She said, “When we’re talking about making the postings, that school districts are required to make about homeless education policy in McKinney-Vento, what are the requirements for translations and interpretations, for families who are speaking our native, and other languages, other than English?”

Karen Rice:

Yeah, that’s a great question. McKinney-Vento is silent on that, except to say, to provide it in a manner that’s understandable. And so, thinking through… There are posters and brochures from different states, that they have shared and made public for people, that exist in so many different languages. Nobody’s required to reinvent the wheel. And so, the resources are out there in other languages. I think it’s just important to know where those resources are, and I can drop some links into the chat as well, that’ll help with that.

I just finished putting together a resource on supporting immigrant and migrant youth experiencing homelessness. And so, I’ll link to that document, because I have a whole list of other languages that are available for those posters and those brochures. And so, feel free to repurpose. People that have made these public have said, “Take these and use them.” You do not have to come up with your own poster design, or anything like that. So I’ll link that document in, and then, near the bottom, there’s a whole list of what other languages are available.

Quibila Divine:

I think we also should be mindful that migrant families may need some free legal representation. They may need some English classes. There are other services that can be provided, so that, whatever we can do to assist, we should be willing to reach out and do… Or connect them to the resources that they need, in order to find those resources.

I want to go back to the other question though, because this is burning. It’s very important for us to reach out to elected officials, because even if you don’t have certain programs within your state, within your county, within your city, you have an elected official. And you can reach out to that elected official, and find out, “Okay, so this is what I heard about what’s going on over here. How can we bring it here?” So just to go back to your point, Jessica, regarding, how can we bring it to where we are? So, elected officials are key.

Jessica Grotevant Webster:

That’s right. Thank you so much for bringing that up, too, because part of advocacy is the work that we do to advocate in our local and state governments, as well. So, yes, thank you so much for reminding us of that. Absolutely.

Kailanya Brailey:

And just another element of removing those barriers, and addressing those barriers. Our last question… Can you give an example of a successful district or school partnership with OST that led to supports for students who may have otherwise been missed? So, a success story.

Karen Rice:

Well, I can share one that I have heard of. I don’t have firsthand experience with it. But when I was working as a state coordinator at one of our districts in Wisconsin… Had a really successful partnership, because the homeless liaison in that particular district, that was her full-time job. So, unlike many other places, she was not wearing multiple hats. She focused specifically on supporting her students experiencing homelessness. But she really connected with community partners, in a way that I’ve never seen before. I mean, she was out there, and people knew who she was, and she was knocking on doors, and hanging up posters and passing out brochures.

And they developed an MOU that existed… Their school district’s legal counsel developed this in partnership with a couple of the providers in her community. One was the YMCA program, and one was the Boys & Girls Clubs, that… Particularly, they worked together. But they developed an MOU with everybody’s legal counsel involved, so that they could figure out, what can we share? How can we do this? How can we protect a student’s homeless status under FERPA, but then, also make sure we’re removing barriers back and forth?

They also set up a community donation fund to cover all the costs associated with some of the programming pieces. So the YMCA program that they worked with had an enrollment fee, and this community donation fund covered that, so students never had to worry about that. So when the homeless liaison made that referral and said, “X, Y, Z student is coming to your program. Here’s covering the fee. Here’s the information that you need,” without revealing that homeless status, but it made the seamless transition between the school district, and then, the student participating in some of the programming. And so, I think it’s those really intentional relationships. And I think it’s figuring out how to do that in a way that really… The MOU was what they needed to do to jump through their school district hurdles. And so, it’s kind of creative… Finding ways to creatively get around those barriers. So that’s an example I can think of, off the top of my head.

Heather Naviasky:

I can share one, mostly… So I have just one opportunity to really brag on my awesome team, but we’ve been working, as I mentioned, for 20 years. In the last five, we’ve really shifted how we’ve worked with the school district, in terms of the referral process, how we connect school district information to school-based information, with a community school coordinator who can provide resources during the school day, with the school social worker and team, and then, in our out-of-school time program in the summer. And so, we’ve been able to create a network of support for each one of our students. One of the best things, though, is that we’ve shifted the conversation around college, in particular. And so, for our students who have gone through four years of our program in this last cohorts… We got them in ninth grade, and now they’re in 12th. Seven of our eight seniors went to a four-year college on a full ride.

And I feel like it was one of those things, again, where I think we just made assumptions that they weren’t interested at one point, and who knows what that process looked like, but shifting the conversation of, “Do you want to go to college? What do you want to study? How can we help you get there? And where can we take you, to expose you to different opportunities,” shifted that conversation. So to those seven seniors, they’re all over. Mostly in our Maryland state schools, but… And just for a little icing on the cake, we hired four of them back. So now, they’re supporting our program as employees. So a double-win.

Quibila Divine:

I would be remiss if I did not say that SELF has an MOU with several different organizations, one of which is Parent Power. What will you do with yours? And it focuses on ensuring that low income students, homeless or not, in their families, have access to high quality education. What they do is provide all kinds of resources, kindergarten readiness bags, Pampers and diapers for families who may not be able to afford them, or have them, food…

They do a summer lunch program, as well as… The Parent Leaders Advisory Network provides Let’s Read math workshops, which means that they’re having families come together with their children to understand how to not only read a book, but do a math and art activity associated with the book that they’re reading. And then they wind up giving them the book and all the materials that goes with the book. So there’s various different community-based organizations that are out here, that are willing to assist. All we have to do is reach out and make the connection, and form the partnerships. And get those MOUs. You’re right, Karen. Get those MOUs.

Kailanya Brailey:

Absolutely. And that is a perfect way to end. We thank our panelists and our participants so much for being with us. And we’re going to turn it back over to Nikevia.

Nikevia Thomas:

Thank you. And thank you all. This was an amazing, informative, rich, broad discussion of… And I hope that our participants got what they came for. And on that note, would you please take a moment to fill out our webinar survey for today’s session? I’m going to place the link in the chat one more time. And we’d love to hear your feedback for this session. We have three more sessions coming up for this webinar series. The next one is July 21st. So I’ll give you all just a moment to complete, and then we will sign off. Here’s the contact information for Kailanya and Jessica. Okay. And we thank you. And we hope to see you all on July 21st, where we will be focusing on supports for LGBTQIA+ students and their families. Thank you.

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