I teach in a low-income school that is located in the Barrio Logan area of downtown San Diego. This area is rich with art and culture, a fascinating neighborhood and people, and also located near homeless shelters.
This school year, we had a huge increase in our homeless population. We now have 25% homeless kids attending our school. This was such a marked increase from last year, I wondered what was going on. Of course, the economy, jobs, etc. No big surprise except people who do not work or live around the homeless population really do not see it.
I have worked in many different schools, mostly low-income. But I did not truly understand the plight of homeless students until I came to my current school, about 3 years ago.
Some things I didn’t know about homeless shelters:
- There are many different types of shelters, all with their own rules
- The rules at all the shelters are very strict, and not usually good for the kids
- People are homeless for many, MANY different reasons
I also thought, because what a friend had told me, that if you were a single mom with kids, the city would find and put you in housing. Not true. SO not true.
The homeless population at my school would even be higher, but right around the corner is a county run school, specifically for homeless kids. They have many resources for the families there, but als limited space, and a tendency to suggest kids with IEPs go elsewhere. My school has almost no resources for the families. I don’t know why we are not getting more resources from the district. It is like we are an invisible school, with invisible homeless kids.
I wanted to share with everyone a bit about one of my students we will call M. There are so many misconceptions out there about homeless families, I need people to know the truth.
M is a seventh grade girl who came to class at the beginning of the year. She decided to come to this school after trying out the county run school. She didn’t like it. She has amazed me with her positive attitude, and eagerness to learn. She is a normal 12-year-old girl, with many more challenges than most of us can imagine. She has some younger brothers and sisters, including a newborn sister. They live at a nearby homeless shelter.
I assumed, wrongly, that this shelter was like another I knew about. I thought they gave families a room and they could keep their stuff in that room. I was wrong. Not at this shelter. My student’s family has to get in line for the shelter at 4 pm. School ends at 3:30. They start letting people in around 4:30 and the rule says that the whole family must be there, together, to be let in. Therefore, when I asked her to come to my after-school reading program, she could not. She and her siblings, cannot get the extra help they need. This broke my heart, but it doesn’t stop there.
At this shelter, once they are inside, kids are given a very short time to do homework. When homework time is over, they do chores, and then go into a large room where everyone sleeps. It is lights out at 7:30 pm. 7:30! This means, if she is struggling with math homework, which she is, like everyone else because it is the new Common Core math, she cannot spend the time she needs to on it. It also means her other homework does not get done. And she can’t stay after school to complete any of it.
And it doesn’t stop there. I thought, ok, maybe she can have a flashlight and secretly read or do some homework. Nope. First of all, they have to leave their backpacks outside of the room they sleep in. Second of all, the people come around and check to make sure the people are sleeping. Yes, they actually come around and literally poke people to make sure they are asleep. If they are not, they kick them out!
In the morning they wake up early to do chores. They “randomly” select individuals to do the chores, but M says they always seem to pick her mom. This means that she has to go outside with her brothers and sisters, including the newborn, and wait while her mom does chores. This is also why she is frequently late to school. It also explains why she told me she probably could not come in early before school to get help.
Everything is stacked against her. Yet, she still has to take the SBAC and be scored against her “peers”. All students in low incomes have so many things stacked against them, and the homeless kids just have even more in their way. Arne Duncan doesn’t care about this. He cares about Accountability. We must make sure every child is reaching “rigorous” standards while being hungry, tired, and stressed. Makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?
Many people also assume they know why people are homeless. There are so many different reason why. M is the perfect example. They used to live in Los Angeles with the grandmother. Then her dad was deported last year. They decided to move to San Diego because that way they can visit their dad every weekend in Tijuana. They don’t have a car, so they wouldn’t be able to see him if they stayed in LA. Here, they can take the trolley all the way down to the border. They are working on getting him back to the states.
M also is frequently absent. She has to take care of her brothers and sisters if her mom needs help. Recently, her mom had to have surgery so M was out for quite a while.
Despite all of this, M still likes school. She also still likes reading. She has an incredible positive attitude as well. I constantly worry about her and her family.This is the reality that these kids face. They are invisible. Most of us never really know what they go through. Hopefully this has given you a glimpse, and a bit more understanding of the situation, and the ridiculousness of Common Core and high stakes testing.