Archive for November, 2018

Washington State Works to Meet Needs of its Homeless Students Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal discusses how the state is helping these students graduate.

November 2, 2018

By Casey Leins, Staff writer and producer at U.S. News & World Report

Nov. 2, 2018, at 6:00 a.m

The lack of affordable housing in Washington state continues to critically impact families and children, and it’s led to a record number of homeless students in the state’s public school system.

Wi-Fi Hot Spots Help Homeless


About 1 in every 25 Washington K-12 public school students, or about one child in every classroom, will experience homelessness this year, according to a report released in May by the state’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. In Seattle, that rate jumps to 1 in 13 students.

 

For these students who are living on the street, in shelters or moving from place to place, completing a homework assignment or studying for a test isn’t usually their most pressing concern, making it difficult for them to excel in school – or even just attend.

 

“If you don’t have a stable place to live, and you don’t have secure food, the learning is so minor in their priority array,” says Superintendent Chris Reykdal, who was elected in November 2016 and assumed office in early 2017.

 

Washington’s housing affordability crisis is fueled in part by its large population growth, according to the state’s Affordable Housing Advisory Board. Rents increased 18 percent between 2006 and 2016, while the median income for low-income households remained unchanged.


Chris Reykdal

Chris Reykdal has been Washington’s superintendent of public instruction since January 2017. (OFFICE OF SUPERINTENDENT OF PUBLIC INSTRUCTION)


Beyond the state’s lack of affordable housing, many other factors contribute to student homelessness, such as family mental health issues and unemployment.

Reykdal says his office and others throughout Washington are working to provide homeless students with the resources to graduate. He spoke with U.S. News & World Report about these efforts and what approaches are successful. The interview has been edited for length and clarity:

 

What are some efforts your office has implemented to help Washington’s public schools better meet the needs of their homeless students?

What we have tried to do is engage our Legislature over the last couple years to say that there’s some federal money (designated to address student homelessness), there’s some McKinney-Vento (Homeless Assistance Act) dollars given to our state to try to help, but we don’t think that’s enough. And so our state Legislature has put additional state money into programs.

 

Of course, getting to the root of (student homelessness) has been very challenging because of growing income inequality, family opioid addiction, mental health issues, chronic substance abuse, and then just affordability. It just flat out is a reality that we have a housing supply shortage in our state.

 

So we’ve focused mostly on transportation as a system that can’t exactly solve the root causes right away, but we’ve tried, for example, regional grant programs. We said, ‘Gosh, the students are homeless and they’re moving or they’re couch surfing, or they’re mobile in communities, but we know the research says that they’re best able to perform in school if they stay in their home district.’ We’ve actually provided transportation dollars to get them to their home district.

 

(Washington) has identified a homeless coordinator in every one of our 295 school districts. I’d say in the early years, it was all about “who are these students and how do we create a system of accountability for identifying them,” and now we’re onto better solutions like transportation.

 

Homeless Students Face Additional Struggle


Besides these transportation efforts, are there any other initiatives that have proven to be successful?

 

I can’t say it’s consistent from one district to another, but we’ve definitely seen success in some of our districts that use what we call a “community in schools” model. So they have either taken money that they have access to from their local school levy, or they’ve received grant dollars from various sources and they’ve created networks of support within their communities.

So they’ve literally brought in dentists who put forward hours for dental care, or they have brought in their local food bank and have created a sort of consistent approach for food, particularly on weekends. So some of these students who are getting two meals a day through their school system are still getting calories over the weekend. This community in schools model is very, very powerful and it works remarkably well. We have this model in our Bellingham area near the Canadian border and down in the Vancouver area near the Oregon border. These are two really good model districts doing that work.

 

Beyond general funding, what else can be done at the state level?

 

From a reaction standpoint, we’d like to have more transportation grants, a bigger emphasis again on these community models and certainly health care at a minimum for our homeless youth, and mental health support.

 

The root cause issues, of course, are much bigger, and I would love to see our state take on a more significant role in trying to figure out housing affordability. The city of Seattle wants to build their way out of this with low-income housing. Other places want to use voucher systems and other models. I don’t necessarily have the right model in my mind, but I know you have to address housing affordability and income inequality if you’re going to address (student homelessness).

 

Homeless in Seattle


It’s also that we have to be nontraditional in our outcomes for kids, so this sort of 20-year testing obsession doesn’t work for a kid that’s highly mobile and highly food insecure, for example. So one of the other things we’re doing that’s not unique to homeless youth, but I think can help them, is we really are trying to figure out ways where they get credit for prior learning, and they get credit for service and they get credit for work.

And so if you can imagine that there’s an entire skill set that’s actually learned by survival … we want to find a way to give students some kind of credit for that as long as it meets learning outcomes. But that isn’t the standardized test, that is learning by life, and those students should get some credit for that.

 

Is there anything in the works for this yet?

 

We have a little bit of stuff already on prior learning credit for sure. Right now our governor has what we call “Career Connect Washington.” We’re trying to figure out graduation pathways for students their junior and senior years that includes getting high school credit and maybe even some college credit, when appropriate, for work. And we’ve got some businesses in our state that are already cranking it up.

 

Switzerland has the model everyone’s pointing to and trying to figure out for how, if traditional school isn’t the root for every student, can we get them into a workplace setting and then recognize some credit for that. So there’s little pockets of excellence around the state, and we’re sort of building that formal system right now. And the governor will put something forward to our legislature this year to try to bring that to a bigger scale.

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