2019 Year-In-Review

The SchoolHouse Connection team at a staff retreat in Washington, DC. 

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

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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.

SchoolHouse Connection’s 2018 Scholars having fun exploring Washington DC.


SchoolHouse Connection’s 2019 Scholars receiving their scholarships in Orlando, Florida.

#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 webinars, and 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 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
“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.”

#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.

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

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.

Patricia with McKinney-Vento Liaisons and Staff from Anchorage, Kenai, Fairbanks, and Mat-Su School Districts.

Jillian presenting with Dani Haynes from Bowling Green at the 2019 Higher Education Case Managers Association (HECMA) Conference in Cleveland, Ohio.

Jillian and Shahera from California Homeless Youth Project presenting at the 2019 NASPA Conference in Los Angeles, California.

Barbara at the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Conference in Washington, D.C.

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

Top 5 Webinars

We conduct webinars featuring expert national, state, and local presenters. Here are the five most-viewed and attended webinars:

  1. Be Attentive to Attendance: How Chronic Absenteeism Affects Students Experiencing Homelessness
  2. Addressing the Challenges of Homelessness Using a Two-Generational Lens: Meeting the Needs of Young Children and Parenting Youth
  3. Improving School Attendance for Students Experiencing Homelessness: A Model School-Shelter Partnership
  4. The Power of Relationship: How Mentorship Can Support Chronically Absent Homeless Students
  5. Supporting Students Experiencing Homelessness: What the YRBS Teaches Us About Health Risks, and How to Mitigate Them

Click here to access all our archived webinars, organized by category.

“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.

Top 5 Guest Perspectives

We gain invaluable insights from school district liaisons, state coordinators, service providers and young people. Here are the most viewed essays:

  1. Depaul USA’s Dax Program: Homelessness Has No Place Here
  2. Nudging Financially Insecure College Students to Success
  3. Never Stop Telling Your Story: 7 Questions with Destiny Dickerson, an SHC Young Leader
  4. Safe Havens in Times of Need: The Role of Crisis Nurseries
  5. Using Chronic Absence Data to Identify and Support Students Experiencing Homelessness

Click here to access all of our guest perspectives.

“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.

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 Research Posts

2019 brought new insights on homelessness from research. Here are some of the most impactful and important studies:

  1. Number of Students Experiencing Homelessness Reaches All-Time High; Growth in Numbers of Unaccompanied Youth Most Marked
  2. Student Homelessness: Lessons from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS)
  3. How Early Family Experiences Lead to Youth Homelessness
  4. Missed Opportunities: Education Among Youth Experiencing Homelessness in America
  5. “I Know What’s at Stake:” How Homelessness Impacts College Success in New York City

Check out all of our research posts here.

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.

#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.

#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.”

#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

#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.

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.

Staff Highlights

1. Writing letters of recommendation for a 2011 young leader’s admission to Ph.D. programs; receiving a text from a 2001 young leader letting me know that she is working as a civil rights attorney for people experiencing homelessness; learning that a 1999 young leader completed her college degree this year — 20 years after she graduated from high school. Our work to overcome homelessness through education is a long-term commitment, and witnessing these individual milestones fueled me. I remain in awe of the incredible potential of our young people. 2. Being with the attendees of the NAEHCY conference – the 23rd in my career – I thought my heart might burst. It was fortifying to re-affirm decades of relationships with some of the fiercest advocates for homeless children and youth on the planet. It was also inspiring to see those advocates on the Hill, speaking truth on behalf of children and youth who are too often invisible. I left feeling the power of community, the unshakeable bond of a shared mission, and the clarity of knowing that I am doing what I am supposed to be doing – of being where I belong. 3. Ten cities in 12 weeks! I had the honor of participating in the listening sessions on family homelessness organized by the Administration for Children and Families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. I got to know national, regional, and local ACF leaders, and met many amazing local family homeless providers. It was a remarkable learning experience and an incredible opportunity to bring together untapped resources and new constituencies for children and families experiencing homelessness. The act of listening is powerful and can be transformative – especially when communities are given license to speak openly and policymakers are willing to hear.
— Barbara | Executive Director
1. Celebrating the passage of 14 state laws that will help over 600,000 youth and young adults experiencing homelessness to graduate high school, get jobs, access health care and housing services, and succeed in higher education. It was a joy and privilege to work with smart, committed advocates and policymakers in 20 states this year. 2. Providing hands-on support to liaisons, State Coordinators, and advocates across the country, including Alaska and Hawaii. Seeing the passion, and sometimes frustration, on the faces of people on the front lines with children, youth, and families inspires me to provide the best practical assistance I can. Help like providing a Hawaii liaison with a strongly worded letter, citing the law, so a student living in a tent could get her free lunch immediately, are small things we can do to make a difference for students and advocates. 3. All the time spent working and celebrating with our scholars and Young Leaders. Co-presenting on risk and resilience with Destiny, Kara, Eunsoo and Danny; attending legislative hearings and presentations with Tia and Sarah; watching Rebecca cross the stage at her high school graduation; co-authoring our YRBS series with Kara, and celebrating with new and returning scholars in Orlando and DC.
— Patricia | Director of Program Advancement and Legal Affairs
1. As a result of my work in infant mental health, I was invited by colleagues to guest edit a ZERO TO THREE Journal issue (Spring 2019) that focused on infants and toddlers experiencing homelessness and their families and then to co-host two webinars that further highlighted the articles in the journal issue. 2. Through a subcontract relationship through Salvation Army with the state of North Carolina Division of Child Development and Early Education, I began my third year of collaborating with partners in North Carolina to identify and install structural change to better align and connect housing, child care subsidies, education, and early childhood sectors. 3. Building on past relationships with colleagues from across the nation, I am fortunate to have ongoing opportunities to support state leaders, state systems and federal TTA to states to enhance and expand resources focused on young children experiencing homelessness and their families, including supporting the implementation of the Home At Head Start campaign.
— Grace | Director of Early Childhood Initiatives
1. I joined SchoolHouse Connection as the Director of Policy and Advocacy. I am so blessed and honored to be apart of this amazing organization. 2. I attended my first NAEHCY Conference. I had a great time meeting the State Coordinators and MV Liaisons at the SHC exhibit table. I participated in the Legislative and Advocacy session with Barbara and Patricia. Finally, I joined MV liaisons and State Coordinators on Hill visits to educate congress about the challenges homeless students experience. 3. I reviewed the first round of the 2020 SHC scholar applications. The applicants are amazing and resilient. I gained a better appreciation of their obstacles and ultimate successes as they navigate through the educational system while experiencing homelessness.
— Asua | Director of Policy & Advocacy
1. I loved meeting the 2019 class of scholars and hearing them share their powerful experiences with social workers at the National School Social Work Association of America conference in Orlando, Florida. 2. Florida Coalition for the Homeless 2019 Conference- I had an amazing time providing a keynote to HUD and McKinney-Vento staff on “hidden homelessness” and the needs of children, youth, and families. 3. Launching our first newsletter designed specifically for our scholars, where we are able to share scholarships, provide words of support, and give them a platform to write guest perspectives and share wisdom with their fellow scholars.
— Jordyn | Director of Youth Leadership & Scholarships
1. I had the best time setting up, organizing, and tending the exhibit tables at the 2019 NAEHCY conference. I had the opportunity to meet people who receive our newsletters and are familiar with our organization. It was great to gather feedback from those who interact with us and use our resources on a daily basis. 2. I witnessed our young leaders testify in front of congressional staffers in Washington D.C. Our young leaders have gone through so much, but they still have the courage to speak their truths – this amazes me and serves as a reminder of why I do what I do. 3. I am able to continue elevating our work and spread awareness about our organization through various communication channels and efforts.
— Leconte | Communications Manager
1. NASPA Conference – It was an amazing experience presenting on national best practices at one of the largest higher education conferences (over 8,000 attendees) with Shahera Hyatt from the California Homeless Youth Project 2. Scholars – Getting to meet our 2019 Scholars during our Awards Ceremony and also seeing the 2018 Scholars in DC for their congressional briefing 3. Building relationships – This year I’ve attended 7 conferences around the country and it’s great to meet people I’ve interviewed on the phone or have emailed back and forth.
— Jillian | Program Manager, Higher Education
1. 2019 marked the inaugural year of the State Partnerships on Student Homelessness Project, through which we helped support six grantee states as they implemented targeted solutions addressing student homelessness. I have loved getting to know talented practitioners from Hawaii, Oregon, Nevada, Kentucky, Washington, and California on both a professional and personal level, and have developed an even deeper humility regarding the sweat and tears it takes to tackle large-scale change projects. 2. I’m a writer by nature, and I have a not-so-secret love for the “youth and practitioner voices” section of the ELH website. It has been magical to work with guest writers to help have their stories heard by a national audience. 3. You know you work with the right people when you ugly cry during the scholar award ceremony in Orlando and two SHC Young Leaders offer hugs and tissues. I am honored to do my small part on their behalf, every day.
— Katie | Program Manager, Education Leads Home