When you’re not sure where you’re going to sleep at night, algebra lessons or writing a history report are the last things you’re thinking about. These are the challenges faced by housing-insecure students and their teachers every day – especially during remote learning.
According to a recent study from UCLA’s Center for the Transformation of Schools, nearly 270k K-12 students who experienced homelessness in California at the end of the 2018-2019 school year. That’s enough students to fill the entire Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles about five times, and a 50 percent increase over the past 10 years.
Learn4Life, a network of high schools that focuses on at-risk students and former dropouts, is working with almost 1,000 of California’s 31,000 homeless teens. November’s Homeless Youth Awareness Month is a good time to sound the alarm about this critical situation. Youth experiencing homelessness are 87 percent more likely to drop out of high school, plus they tend to develop chronic health conditions and use alcohol or drugs.
“Remote learning has been especially difficult for our students suffering homelessness. They love to come to school where there’s plenty of food, encouragement and a safe refuge from their home life,” said Caprice Young, national superintendent. “We’ve provided them with laptops and hotspots, but without a stable home environment, it was difficult to keep some students engaged.”
Jake (not his real name) is a 10th grader whose family is doubled up, living with another family, but his education is very important to him. When remote instruction began, he was frustrated and unmotivated, so his teacher and support staff ramped up support and outreach, giving him daily and weekly calls and visits. Plus, they helped him secure groceries and dental care. He is back on track to graduate and plans to apply to culinary schools in Canada — eagerly researching visas and international student information.
Olivia (not her real name) was constantly running away, struggled with alcoholism and suffered from homelessness for some time. She had attended Learn4Life briefly but left the area and dropped out. Then she remembered the support from teachers and months later reached out for help. “We helped her re-enroll and she is now flourishing, doing virtual Geometry SGI and core English classes,” Young added. “She is an inspiration, that no matter what life throws at you, you get back up and you don’t give up. She changed her story!” Olivia is still temporarily doubled up, but she is focused on and committed to finishing high school. She overcame alcohol dependency with the help of her loved ones and support system, and by separating from old friends who were not healthy for her.
Learn4Life’s model works well for housing-insecure students. Its flexible schedules and one-on-one instruction give students the support and confidence they need to stay in school. Teachers and counselors regularly check in to see how students are doing and provide encouragement. They work with community support services to help with everything from free school supplies, clothes and hygiene items, to transportation, health care, mental health services and food assistance. School social workers are available to help families find housing and navigate services and financial aid applications.
Read more about the resources and support Learn4Life provides its students at learn4life.org/resources.