Monday, May 26, 2008

Educating Homeless Children

There is no question that our poorest children are not well served by our society. If their parents are well enough to have a job, the children often end up cycling through schools, relatives and addresses and the result is there is no continuity in their educational experience. It used to be that parents would try to stay in one place for most of their children's school years because of the old addage "Give your children roots, and wings!". These days, we have parents who think nothing of burdening very young children with the adult responsibilities of feeding, clothing and housing the family. This is the reason so many children drop out of school, to work. But in doing so, they also leave behind huge opportunities to learn life and professional skills which will help them avoid the pitfalls of homelessness. So in the linked story, Chicago schools are proposing to create boarding schools for children from homeless families. Right now there's a great deal of outcry regarding putting a wedge between parents and children. That is a concern. But what bothers me much more is that schools are already in the position of feeding, providing health services and providing after school care, so how much more can we provide or should we provide? I can see that there are economic concerns about providing housing and services for children, but on the other hand, aren't we practically doing that now?

Let's look at the positive side. Without having to strive to provide housing, meals and clothing for their children, homeless adults can get on with the business of healing and finding meaningful, sustaining work. And without having to shift schools on a whim, our poorest children will have the educational opportunities afforded by having a stable living situation. While this is definitely a solution that must have the bugs worked out, with the sword of AYP and NCLB, our schools have to demonstrate that ALL populations are improving. Sadly, that simply will not happen if children are relegated to homeless shelters with parents who cannot or will not take the necessary steps to improve their lives.

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