SchoolHouse Connection

2019 Year-in-Review & Top 5 Lists
As 2019 comes to a close, we reflect on another breathless year – the third since our launch in December 2016. 

We remain inspired by our network of young people, educators, service providers, advocates, and policymakers who share our vision: a long-term permanent reduction in homelessness through early care and education, prenatal through higher education. 

Below, you’ll find our most significant accomplishments of 2019 and numerous end-of-the-year lists, from our most widely accessed and popular SHC resources according to user analytics, to the personal 2019 highlights of your SHC Team. 

If you’re new to SHC, you’ll get a sense of who we are and what do; if you’re an old friend, please join us in recalling this year’s progress, even as we prepare to take on more challenges together in 2020. 

Your support makes our accomplishments possible. We invite you to help us achieve even more for children, youth, and families experiencing homelessness in 2020 through a donation to SchoolHouse Connection.

Wishing you a Happy New Year!
The SchoolHouse Connection Team

2019’s Three Most Significant Accomplishments

#1 Policy Advocacy: Changing Systems, Changing Lives


  • We worked with state policy teams to achieve the introduction of 23 bills in 14 states in 2019, with 14 of those bills becoming law. Those 14 new state laws will directly impact 605,700 youth– making specific, tangible improvements in their lives in a variety of areas, from increasing high school graduation and postsecondary attainment, to increasing access to health care, shelter, housing, and employment. Looking ahead to the 2020 state legislative session, we anticipate the introduction of bills in at least eight states, with at least four bills in three additional states in 2021. We’re also launching extensive initiatives to support implementation of the 14 new state laws we’ve created. 
  • We led national advocacy efforts that resulted in an 8.5% increase in FY2020 funding for the Education for Homeless Children and Youth (EHCY) program (the federal program that provides funding to schools and districts to support the identification and school success of homeless children and youth). This year’s success builds on previous years’ successes, representing a 32% increase in funding over the past four years. More EHCY resources translate directly into more children and youth experiencing homelessness being identified by schools and supported in receiving the education that is their great hope of escaping homelessness as adults.
  •  We led federal policy advocacy on three bipartisan, bicameral bills to remove barriers to education and housing, and saw many of our provisions to increase access to financial aid for homeless and foster youth make it into the lead Higher Education Act proposals in both the House and the Senate.
Image above: SchoolHouse Connection’s 2019 Scholars receiving their scholarships in Orlando, Florida.
Image above: SchoolHouse Connection’s 2018 Scholars having fun exploring Washington DC.

#2 Practical Assistance: Hands-on Help to Meet Real Needs

  •  Early Childhood: We helped increase access to quality early childhood education and child care, with in-depth work with partners in North Carolina, Hawaii, and Washington state. For example, we continued to highlight model partnerships such as networking efforts in Pennsylvania, specifically Philadelphia’s BELL Project, and we supported North Carolina’s Balance of State Continuum of Care to establish Children & Youth Subcommittees, with a goal of increasing the number of children and families receiving child care subsidies. We also led a professional learning community of Head Start State Collaboration Directors, child care administrators, and national technical assistance centers, to tackle specific challenges related to early care for young children experiencing homelessness. 
  • K-12 Education: We responded to hundreds of questions about specific families and individual students from the field, including 86 that were published as part of our “Q&A from Our Inbox” series – a series that impacts real students in tangible ways. In addition, our close relationships with school district homeless liaisons, state coordinators, and other educators allowed us to tailor our assistance to meet emerging needs. In 2019, that included original research on health risks of homelessness in adolescence, co-authored with one of our young leaders, as well as a customizable back-to-school training toolkit, numerous practitioner-led webinarsand other practical resources
  • Higher Education: We identified and spread innovations in supporting youth experiencing homelessness in the transition from K-12 to higher education, as well as on campuses across the country, with specific in-depth work in California, and over 50 direct interventions with young people and providers to remove barriers to financial aid. 
We received an email regarding a high school senior in Ohio, who won a college scholarship based on her academic achievement. After becoming homeless, she had excessive absences because she had to work to support herself. She was failing two classes shortly before graduation. She did not need those classes to graduate, and failing grades would have made her ineligible for her college scholarship. However, her school district did not want to allow her to drop the classes. We provided legal support and technical assistance that convinced her school district to allow her to drop those classes. She graduated on-time in May and kept her scholarship.

“We invited a few financial aid office staff, including their director, to a shared learning opportunity over a catered lunch using the SchoolHouse Connection-NASFAA webinar. It was our way to build stronger relationships and shared language/understanding about financial aid procedures for homeless/brink of homeless students. It really has helped my office when referring students to the financial aid office, and walking them through the proper processes using a trauma-informed lens.”
Miguel Arellano Sanchez

Basic Needs Navigator, Human Services Resource Center, Oregon State University

#3 Raising Awareness: Increasing Visibility to Increase Support


  • Our Director of Early Childhood Initiatives was the guest editor of a special ZERO TO THREE journal that focused on young children experiencing homelessness and included a sampling of policies, practices, challenges, and opportunities at the intersection of homelessness and infant-toddler services. 
  • We organized a DC Youth Summit and a bipartisan Congressional Briefing featuring our scholars and young leaders. The room was filled to capacity, with over 100 people in attendance, including staff from 40 Congressional offices. Our young leaders spoke directly and personally about the barriers created by federal housing and education policy, and how those barriers stand in the way of their goals of self-sufficiency.
  • We were sought out for our expertise by numerous print and web media, and were quoted in over 25 publications, including the Associated Press, the Seattle Times, Education Week, NPR, and Politico.
Image above: SchoolHouse Connection’s 2018 Scholars preparing to speak in front of Congressional Staff.

2019 Youth Leadership and Scholarship Program Highlights

At SchoolHouse Connection, we believe that young people are the experts on their experiences, needs and strengths. We are also proud to offer a scholarship program. The program provides scholarships to youth who have experienced homelessness to ensure their completion of a post-secondary education program; builds a stable peer and adult support network; and offers young people meaningful opportunities to engage in advocacy.

Types of assistance provided to our young leaders include food, clothes, housing, books, beds, mental health care, medical care, legal help, tax help, transportation, job support, pillows, calculators, computers, GRE fees, grad school applications, and tuition.

“The SchoolHouse Connection scholarship is more than just an acknowledgement and money. It’s an entire family that loves and supports you no matter where you are in the country, no matter what time it is. These people are who I turn to when I’m sad and who I turn to when I don’t know what else to do. I turn to you when I want to celebrate life.”
Aseret Hesse, SHC Young Leader

Number of SHC Young Leaders who graduated college in 2018

Dollar amount of scholarships awarded

Dollar amount of external scholarships awarded

Times we provided material support


2019 Training Highlights

We provide in-person training all over the nation, from Alaska to Georgia. In 2019, we conducted over 50 training sessions in 23 states (and Washington, D.C.) on topics ranging from federal and state policy, McKinney-Vento and ESSA implementation, immigrant students, higher education, and early childhood programs.

Number of Training Sessions

Number of States + Washington D.C.

Image above: Barbara and State Coordinators during a Hill visit in Washington, D.C.
Image above: Grace presenting at the Meeting on Family Homelessness – Southern Mountain Homeless Coalition in North Carolina.
Image above: Jillian and Shahera from California Homeless Youth Project presenting at the 2019 NASPA Conference in Los Angeles, California.
Image above: Barbara at the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Conference in Washington, D.C.
Image above: Katie with our Young Leader, Hannah, presenting at the National Mentoring Summit in Washington, D.C.
Image above: Grace presenting at the 2019 National Smart Start Conference in Greensboro, North Carolina. 
Image above: Jillian presenting with Dani Haynes from Bowling Green at the 2019 Higher Education Case Managers Association (HECMA) Conference in Cleveland, Ohio.
Image above: Patricia with McKinney-Vento Liaisons and Staff from Anchorage, Kenai, Fairbanks, and Mat-Su School Districts.
Image above: Patricia presenting alongside our young leaders at the 2019 Washington State Student Support Conference.

Top 5 by the Statistics

Below are the most widely accessed and popular SHC activities and resources in 2019, based on user analytics.

Top 5 Resources

At SchoolHouse Connection, we provide many tools to help early care and education professionals implement law and policy. Here were some of our most popular resources in 2019:

  1. McKinney-Vento Act: Two-page Summary
  2. Tips for Helping Homeless Youth Succeed in College
  3. State Laws to Support Youth Experiencing Homelessness
  4. Guide to Using Sesame Street in Communities’ Resources on Family Homelessness
  5. Sample Form Letter to Determine the Independent Student Status of Unaccompanied Homeless Youth

Click here to access all of our resources.

I appreciate that SHC really listens to the needs of those working on the ground. The additional tools and resources, including the ability to use and revise, will definitely help me work with school personnel, community service providers and most importantly the parent/families/youth more efficiently and effectively.”
Facebook User

New Resources On Our Website

Resource: 4 Things you Can Do To Help Homeless and Foster Youth
Resource: Tips for Teachers & Staff: How to Support Students Experiencing Homelessness

Number of webinars in 2018

Number of webinar registrants

“I appreciate being able to watch the recorded webinar. Thank you for making it available. I truly value the webinars SchoolHouse Connection provides. I learn very much from the presenters and find the topics very relevant. I feel like my own practice is better partly due to the training SchoolHouse Connection provides for liaisons.”
Cynthia A. Núñez, MSW

School Community Social Worker, McKinney-Vento Liaison, Lewiston Independent School District No. 1, Lewiston, ID

“A SHC webinar on serving homeless students as they transition to college inspired me to get in touch with Patricia with a question about a former student who was told by a college financial aid staffer that she had to comply with a long list of invasive required “proofs” of homelessness in order to qualify as independent for FAFSA purposes. Patricia sent me a list of legal citations, which I forwarded to the college financial aid personnel who had just told me they were not going to budge on this requirement, and voila! The person got right back to me saying that the student actually did not have to provide “proofs” of years of homelessness. Thanks, SHC.”
Cate Moses

Homeless Education Liaison, Monte del Sol Charter School, Santa Fe, NM


Top 5 Q&A

At SchoolHouse Connection, we receive many questions from educators, service providers, and the public about the education of children and youth experiencing homelessness. This year, at the request of multiple educators and providers, we have turned this Q&A feature into a printable FAQ document of legal interpretations and best practices, organized by subject categories.

Click here to read all of our Q&As from our inbox.

# of Questions received in 2019

#1 A McKinney-Vento family has split up, with mother staying in District A, child staying with a family member in District B, and the school of origin in District C. In which districts can the child attend school?
Answer: Under the McKinney-Vento Act, the child has the right to remain in the school of origin (District C), or attend any school that other children living where the child is living are eligible to attend (District B). 42 USC 11432(g)(3)(A). State laws also may give the child the right to attend school where his/her mother is staying (District A).

The McKinney-Vento Act also states:
“(F) PLACEMENT CHOICE- The choice regarding placement shall be made regardless of whether the child or youth lives with the homeless parents or has been temporarily placed elsewhere.” 42 USC 11432(g)(3)(F)
In this situation, the parent and child lost their housing, and now the parent has sent the child to live with someone else. The child has the right to remain in the school of origin, or enroll in “any public school that nonhomeless students who live in the attendance area in which the child or youth is actually living are eligible to attend.” 42 USC 11432(g)(3)(A)(ii)

The school placement must be based on the child’s best interest, with a preference for the school origin, “except when doing so is contrary to the request of the child’s or youth’s parent or guardian.” 42 USC 11432(g)(3)(B)(i)

#2 I have some questions about students from other countries. What is the difference between refugees and asylum-seekers? And do youth receive health screenings or immunizations when they enter the US?
Answer: Both refugees and asylum-seekers are requesting to remain in the U.S. because they have been persecuted or fear they will be persecuted on account of race, religion, nationality, and/or membership in a particular social group or political opinion. Refugees seek protection from outside of the US. Their status is granted before they enter the US, and they have a sponsoring agency to assist in their resettlement.  They receive a refugee visa while they are outside the US, which gives them the right to enter the US and receive services from the sponsoring agency for a period of time. Refugees sometimes are McKinney-Vento eligible, if they meet the definition of homeless.

Asylum-seekers present themselves at the border, or at an immigration office (in person or by filing paperwork), and request asylum.  They have to go through a legal process before they are granted asylum. Ultimately, few will be granted asylum. Again, asylum-seekers can be McKinney-Vento eligible, if they meet the definition of homeless.

When youth enter the U.S. on their own, they usually do receive a health screening and immunizations, and then they are placed somewhere by the Office of Refugee Resettlement— which is confusing, because they are not actually refugees.  Most of these youth are McKinney-Vento unaccompanied homeless youth. Children who are taken into custody by immigration authorities receive health screenings and immunizations prior to being released to a sponsor or foster family. Some information about this is available here.

According to the World Health Organization, most foreign countries have immunization rates that are similar to the United States.  Country-specific immunization information is available from the WHO:

Also, here is an FAQ from the U.S. government regarding children who come through immigration processes:

“Q: Do these children pose a health risk?
A: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention believes that the children arriving at U.S. borders pose little risk of spreading infectious diseases to the general public. Countries in Central America, where most of the unaccompanied alien children are from (Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras), have childhood vaccination programs, and most children have received some childhood vaccines. However, they may not have received a few vaccines, such as chickenpox, influenza and pneumococcal vaccines. As a precaution, ORR is providing vaccinations to all children who do not have documentation of previous valid doses of vaccine.

Children receive an initial screening for visible and obvious health issues (for example: lice, rashes, diarrhea, and cough) when they first arrive at Customs and Border Protection (CBP) facilities. Onsite medical staff are available at CBP facilities to provide support, and referrals are made to a local emergency room for additional care, if needed. Children must be considered “fit to travel” before they are moved from the border patrol station to an ORR shelter.

Children receive additional, more thorough medical screening and vaccinations at ORR shelter facilities. If children are found to have certain communicable diseases, they are separated from other children and treated as needed. The cost of medical care for the children, while they are in ORR custody, is paid by the federal government.”

Anyone physically present in the US has the right to attend school here regardless of immigration status— refugees, asylum seekers, undocumented youth, etc.   Public schools cannot ask families or youth about their immigration status. Also, the McKinney-Vento Act applies equally to students from other countries. If they are experiencing homelessness, they have the right to enroll in school, which includes full participation, immediately.  It is not different because the family or youth is coming from another country.

This document on our website has some resources that might be helpful.

#3 We have former homeless/unaccompanied youth being instructed by their college to get a current FAFSA verification letter from their former high school, even though we have not kept in touch with that student. I thought colleges had a procedure on how to declare a student as independent?
Answer: You are correct. Liaisons can provide unaccompanied homeless youth verification letters for students who have graduated if you are still in touch and still have knowledge of the information necessary to make the verification.  However, you also are right that you should not write letters for former students if you are not in touch with them and aware of their current living situation. In that case, and assuming the youth is not connected to a HUD or RHYA program (as most are not), the financial aid administrator at the university has both the authority and the obligation to make the determination.

Here is a quote from the US Department of Education’s Application and Verification Guide for Financial Aid Administrators (page AVG-117):
“If a student does not have and cannot get documentation from any of the authorities given on page 27, you (the financial aid administrator) must determine if she is an unaccompanied youth who is homeless or is self-supporting and at risk of being homeless. It is important to make homeless youth determinations on a case-by-case basis.”

The AVG goes on to explain the process for FAAs to make the determination. You can access the AVG here.

#4 I’m working with a 21 year old who just took in her 5 siblings. She was denied food stamps for them because she doesn’t have legal custody of them. Is that what the law says?
Answer: No. The sister does not have to have legal custody of her siblings to get food stamp (SNAP) benefits for her siblings.  SNAP eligibility is based on a household, which is defined as people who purchase and prepare food together. Custody, guardianship, or similar relationships are not required. Even beyond that, in this situation, the sister is exercising “parental control” over her younger siblings.  That gives her even more right to obtain SNAP benefits on their behalf. (Note that when an unaccompanied youth is staying with someone temporarily, not purchasing or preparing food together, and not under that person’s “parental control”, the unaccompanied youth would apply for SNAP on her own, as a household of one.)  The last page of this memo from USDA provides more information.
#5 If a Head Start program is administered through a community nonprofit (not a school district), is it required to follow the McKinney Vento Act?
Answer: No. The McKinney-Vento Act applies to preschool programs that are operated, administered or funded, in whole or in part, by a local educational agencies. Details on this definition are available in our preschool flowchart. Head Start and Early Head Start programs for which school districts are not the fiscal agent must meet Head Start Program Performance Standards. Those rules use the McKinney-Vento Act’s definition of homelessness and have multiple requirements around immediate enrollment and improved access to services for families experiencing homelessness.

“That student always snacking might not be getting enough to eat. That quiet student who never talks might be going through depression. That student who is overly outgoing and trying to be pleasing might be compensating for an abusive and degrading parental relationship. If something seems off, then it probably is.”

Destiny Dickerson

Psychology Major at San Diego State University

Imagine going to college yet living on the brink of financial disaster. That’s the situation in which Terry* found himself during his first semester at a community college in northeastern Ohio. Initially excited about starting college and earning his associate’s degree, he quickly became pessimistic, texting to us by the seventh week of the semester “I used to be bad at failing now I’m even better at it!”
Ross E. O’Hara, Ph.D.

Behavioral Researcher, Persistence Plus


Top 5 Newsletters

We provide timely information on federal and state policy, new resources, research, and local and state guest perspectives on innovative practices and programs. Here are the newsletters that were read the most:

  1. Youth Homelessness & Higher Education: New Resources
  2. More Than 1 in 3 Homeless High School Students Attempted Suicide
  3. What’s the Single Greatest Risk Factor for Unaccompanied Youth Homelessness?
  4. Emergency Aid, Student Voice, August Webinars
  5. All Things FAFSA + Podcast on State Policy

Check out all of our newsletters here.

People Reached

Number of newsletters

I just wanted to thank you on behalf of the nurseries to help us get information about the model of care. We really appreciate the opportunity. This ongoing newsletter and your website is a terrific resource for us.
Amy Kendall

Program Director, Crisis Nursery


Top 5 Events

2019 was one for the books – we had so many cool things going on, here’s the top 5:


  1. Youth Summit in Washington DC
  2. Scholarship Ceremony at the 2019 National School Social Work Conference
  3. National Conference of State Legislatures Annual Conference
  4. Presenting and Exhibiting at the NAEHCY Conference 2019
  5. Building a Grad Nation Panel

#1 Youth Summit in Washington DC

During the 2019 DC Summit, SchoolHouse Connection’s scholars shared their wisdom, insights, and experiences with congressional staff and U.S. Department of Education policymakers in Washington, D.C.. The students traveled from Wisconsin, Texas, North Carolina, California, Montana, Indiana, and Washington. Outside of official events, the students had lots of fun including riding scooters, exploring museums, and a night time monument walk. The DC Summit was a powerful time of connection and sharing and we are so thankful to all of our scholars for joining us.

Image above: SHC Young Leaders in front of the U.S. Department of Education after meeting with Assistant Secretary Frank Brogan and other federal leaders in June 2019.

#2 Scholarship Ceremony at the 2019 National School Social Work Conference

We awarded 11 scholarships to deserving young people from across the country at the National School Social Work Conference in Orlando, Florida, as part of our annual scholarship program. The scholars attended the award ceremony, spent time getting to know each other, and enjoyed sponsored tickets to Disney World.

Image above: Celebrating after the 2019 Scholarship Awards in Orlando, FL in April 2019.
#3 National Conference of State Legislatures Annual Conference

SHC was invited to speak at an invitation-only preconference session at the National Conference of State Legislators’ 2019 Legislative Summit. Patricia Julianelle was a featured speaker at a four-hour intensive seminar, entitled “Addressing the Causes and Consequences of Youth Homelessness.” Twenty-five legislators representing 19 states registered for and attended the seminar, where Patricia provided information about youth homelessness and specific policy changes that can improve the lives of homeless youth. After the conference, Patricia recorded a podcast for NCSL’s “Our American States” series, entitled, “Homeless Youth: Risk Factors of the Vulnerable.”

Image above: Patricia and Amy Horton-Newell from the American Bar Association at the NCSL conference in August 2019.

#4 Presenting and Exhibiting at the NAEHCY Conference 2019

SchoolHouse Connection presented in five sessions at NAEHCY’s 2019 Conference in Washington DC. Additionally, we had two interactive exhibit tables filled with SHC merchandise, including hoodies, t-shirts, onesies, notepads, pens, tote bags, and helpful handouts. It was wonderful to connect with old friends and make new ones. Below are five of our sessions:

1. What’s Hot on the Hill(s): Federal and State Policy Advocacy

2. NC’s Focus on Access to Quality Child Care for Children Experiencing Homelessness

3. Education Leads Home: A National Campaign on Student Homelessness

4. Lessons of College Liaisons: Supporting Students Experiencing Homelessness

5. Early Childhood Homelessness State Profiles: Data Use for Practice & Policy

Image above: Jordyn at our exhibit table, amidst onesies, t-shirts, hoodies, and a wide assortment of SHC swag.
#5 Building a Grad Nation Panel

The current national graduation rate now stands at 84.6 percent—a new all-time high—and more than three million more students have graduated from high school rather than dropping out, resulting in significant benefits for them, our economy, and our nation. But this year’s report comes at a time when graduation rate gains are slowing, and effort must be redoubled to close stubborn equity gaps and ensure students are leaving high school better prepared for college and career.

We participated in a panel conversation that addressed the key challenges facing homeless students during the release of the 2019 Building a Grad Nation report authored by Civic and The Everyone Graduates Center.

Image above: Barbara with SHC Young Leader Elaine Williams, Fairfax County Public Schools McKinney-Vento Liaison Kathi Sheffel on a panel moderated by John B. King, CEO of the Education Trust and former Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education.

2019 Education Leads Home Highlights

SchoolHouse Connection is a core partner of the Education Leads Home (ELH) campaign —  a multi-year, national campaign launched in 2018 to improve educational and life outcomes for students experiencing homelessness. In 2019, ELH:


  • Produced the first-ever analysis of national and state graduation rates of homeless students, revealing significant gaps: a 64% graduation rate for homeless students, compared to 77% for low-income students and 84.6% for all students. Media coverage included Education Dive and Education Week. We are working with states and districts to build from the baseline and produce materials and trainings to reduce the opportunity gap.
  • Spurred action at the state and local levels to improve educational outcomes for homeless students. Through ELH’s State Partnerships on Student Homelessness project (SPSH), six governors launched projects to increase educational attainment for children and youth experiencing homelessness. With ELH’s support, state leadership teams are implementing activities that will result in measurable progress toward ELH goals. The lessons from these states will be taken to other states.
  • Disseminated and promoted practices that move states and communities toward ELH goals. Our presentations and tools share information that practitioners implement at their school districts, colleges, and early childhood programs.

2019 SchoolHouse Connection Staff Highlights

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