‘A huge help’
Published 10:38 am Thursday, May 16, 2019
JCS works to provide homeless youth same advantages as peers
By Brittany Fuller
Shainey Marcus, homeless liaison for Jessamine County Schools, said although numbers are highest in Eastern Kentucky for homeless youth, Jessamine County still sees a higher number of homeless students than smaller districts throughout the state.
“99 percent of families do not come forward,” Marcus said. “Every year staff has to be trained, from the front desk to bus drivers and teachers. The hardest to identify are the ones who have lost housing and are living in an abandoned building, house or car.”
In JCS, 40 early learners, 146 elementary, 62 middle school and 99 high school students are currently homeless. Of that, 46 are classified as an unaccompanied youth and not living with a parent or guardian, 313 are “doubled up” or temporarily living with another family, 16 students are living in a hotel or motel environment, 10 are living at a homeless or youth shelter and eight are under sheltered by living outside in a car, tent, abandoned or insufficient housing.
“We rely on other reporters such as teachers, especially young students will confide in their teachers,” Marcus said. “That is part of the training to look for trigger words. Or, looking for certain other things such as not showering or wearing inappropriate for weather clothing or the same clothing as previous days.”
Homeless students, Marcus said, have the highest gap in achievement than those classified as having a traditional gap coming from a minority or low-income family.
JCS works to make sure homeless students are receiving the tools they need to close the gap and receive intervention and tutoring.
Tutors help to work with families and students during summer months to ensure a child is not losing educational skills and moves forward towards their benchmark.
“We work to reduce the dropout rate of homeless students by monitoring attendance and activities in school to see students are maintaining their grades and getting extra support,” Marcus said.
JCS also works to provide transportation for homeless youth, or gasoline for a parent who may be unable to drive.
“Making sure they have access to laundry facilities and laundry detergent (is important),” Marcus said. “Clean clothes are another deterrent that keeps students from coming to school.”
Marcus said JCS also makes sure unaccompanied youth living on their own are getting the medical attention they need and deserve. The school works to make sure all homeless youth are attending the school field trips and are able to play sports like any other student.
“High school unaccompanied youth who have been kicked out of the house, or their family is homeless, or they have decided to be homeless on their own are the most difficult to identify,” Marcus said. “They are the tightest-lipped. They will not tell anyone and a friend (typically) goes to the guidance counselor.”
Marcus said the athletics department also receives training on how to identify and address a homeless youth situation.
“They will know the kids and know no one is picking them up but the kid disappears (after practice),” Marcus said.
Barriers to education are in everyday living, and JCS works to make sure students have food, clothing and shelter, Marcus said.
“We have a really good buy-in from the police and the homeless shelter and we work closely with sister school districts and make sure we can provide services,” Marcus said.
Although federal law requires each state to provide all homeless youth access to the same education, including public preschool, like any other child through the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, JCS also provides additional services such as snacks, mental health support, school supplies, help with scholarships and education and makes sure students classified as homeless youth are receiving the same visits to colleges other youth would receive in Jessamine County.
Marcus said churches in the county have donated furniture, cash donations have been made to JCS, parks and rec have waived fees and residents have pitched in to help pay for gloves or bats for students to play the sports they choose.
“There have been a lot of big donations from the community that have been a big help,” Marcus said. “We have had a really good experience with the community since I have been here. As the community is more and more aware of the numbers, there are some things we are not allowed to pay for (and) we have had a lot of generosity in the community to pay for those things. That has been a huge help.”