On the heels of a 2016 report stating the number of homeless students in Cowlitz County doubled in five years, the Washington State Legislature passed two bills to help schools improve support services for these students through grants. This month, a portion of those state funds was awarded for Kelso and Longview youth.
Kelso School District and Longview Public Schools formed a consortium to improve educational outcomes for homeless students, and received a $111,000 grant from Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI). The grant is part of the Homeless Student Stability Program.
One in 20 students in the county doesn’t have a fixed, adequate, or regular home to go to. Which means one child in every classroom lives in unstable housing conditions.
“By coordinating our care across both districts, we can do more for these students within our community,” said Don Iverson, Director of Student Support for Kelso School District.
The grant will allow the Kelso/Longview Consortium to do three things:
1. Hire a graduation coach at each high school to support homeless/unaccompanied youth
The graduation coach will increase the identification of students in need of support and work with them to find a pathway to graduation and success beyond. Graduation coaches examine data to identify students at risk of dropout, interact directly with students to assist with academic and social needs, develop and deliver intervention services, connect students and families to school and community services and resources, and help students develop goals for their future. Essentially, graduation coaches help knock down barriers that students are facing.
2. Hiring of a full-time homeless liaison within each school district
Homeless education liaisons will ensure the identification, school enrollment, attendance, and opportunities for academic success of students in homeless situations.
3. Staff development and coaching for trauma-informed care K-12.
Childhood trauma can have a direct, immediate, and potentially overwhelming impact on the ability of a child to learn. This training and coaching will help staff to begin to understand the role of trauma, its effect on children and learning, and how to interact with and respond to children impacted by trauma.
“We’re thrilled to receive these funds that enable us to bring resources to the neediest population of our homeless students, those at the secondary level,” said Mary Carr-Wilt, Director of Federal and State Special Programs at Longview Public Schools. “These students are typically under-identified and don’t easily self-report. The staff these funds provide will enable us to identify and connect with these students in order to ensure they have the educational and social supports necessary to graduate.”
The consortium will begin the hiring process for the liaisons and coaches immediately.
“Student homelessness is solvable. Our schools and communities play a critical role in connecting students to community supports that will help them regain stable housing and to stay on track toward graduation. Our community cannot afford to for these kids to miss out on the opportunity to receive a high school diploma and become contributing members of our community. We must break the cycle of homelessness one student at a time,” said Iverson.