Midwestern IU IV: Homeless students focus on learning

Students who are homeless might be living with another family, moving among hotels and shelters, or kicked out of their homes. Amid lives of instability, help with daily needs keeps them in school and focused on learning.

“They might have a roof over their heads, but those transient people are homeless,” said Wendy Kinnear, Region 5 coordinator for the Pennsylvania Education for Children & Youth Experiencing Homelessness Program.

Kinnear works from Midwestern IU IV, coordinating efforts in a state-designated, 10-county region of western and northwestern Pennsylvania. There, 2,790 students were classified as homeless in 2016-17, according to data released in 2018 by the Pennsylvania Department of Education. Kinnear’s team includes site coordinators, program workers in other IUs, and homeless liaisons in every school district, assuring schools the resources to provide uninterrupted learning in each homeless child’s original school, as required by federal law.

Homelessness can undermine education. Students lose three to six months of academic progress with every change in school district. Those who change schools frequently are likelier to become dropouts. Disruption of schooling can perpetuate the cycle of poverty by limiting students’ future earning power.
Kinnear and her team distribute federal grants that help schools meet individual student needs, such as buying a winter coat or paying summer school fees.  They train educators on awareness. Partnerships with community housing coalitions and faith organizations opens doors to emergency help, such as a bed for the night, and long-term solutions.

Kinnear sees the difference in lives changed.
-        The high school graduate exploring community college options who would have dropped out if not for the clothing and other help he received.
-        The girl who was homeless in her junior and senior years who graduated, earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and is pursuing a career in housing and homeless services.
-        The student who was living on the street but is now going to college, thanks to help from his homeless liaison and a faith-based coalition that found him a home.

“We know that we’re reaching a lot of these kids,” said Kinnear. “It’s an ongoing process, but we’ve made an impact. We have more kids graduating and more kids staying in school and doing better academically because of the programming we’re putting in place.”
 

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