Written by Melissa Douglas, Homeless Liaison, Kansas City Public Schools, MO

As we went back to school this fall, we faced many challenges. Some of the biggest ones were, and continue to be:

  1. Where are our students?
  2. What kind of learning will best accommodate each student?
  3. How we will provide transportation once we start to open school buildings?

We haven’t physically seen our students since March, so first, we are working to find our students and make sure they are fully incorporated in our program and our schools. Our McKinney-Vento numbers are down from where they should be, so we know we are missing students. The district is using email blasts and phone blasts for all families. But we worry about how effective that is for our McKinney-Vento families, because we know their phone numbers can change as frequently as their addresses. So we are doing targeted outreach, using a google number and connecting it to multiple phone lines that reach my team, so families can reach us. We also are doing a lot of texting and using all the communication platforms available to us— including social media, radio, and TV.

I had a bright idea to keep in touch with our unaccompanied youth. We started with seniors, since we need to make sure we help them graduate, and then moved to younger grades. I thought we could provide them with cell phones, with a screen big enough for them to do schoolwork on the phone. That way we can keep in touch, and they have a handheld device for school. I wanted to pay for the service in advance, so the youth can stay engaged. With the district paying for the phone, I know the number will stay the same over time.

I wrote up a two-page proposal for my CFO, and he approved CARES Act funds to pay for the phones and the service, with one- to two-year contracts. This is helping us make sure our seniors stay on track for graduation and that we can get them their verification letters for them to complete the FAFSA without parental information. We’re excited about this strategy to keep in touch with our unaccompanied youth!

Image Above: We talked to Melissa (left) about the challenges she faced when going back to school in the fall.

Although our district is starting completely virtually, we will be moving to in-person options. Our families and youth will have a decision to make—do they prefer virtual or in-person learning? There are so many considerations, and it can be a difficult decision for any family. We are working to be available for our families, but many feel stuck and confused about what to do. What is safe, what is best, what is the risk to others in my home if my child goes into the school building? What is the best learning environment for my child? Do you have the capacity basically to home-school your child? Many of our parents are essential workers and don’t have anyone to care for their children during the day. Others are really worried about the potential health risks of in-person learning.

Finally, as a district, we’ll have to solve transportation. How many students can we transport safely on a single bus? Where do they sit? Are they using masks and/or face shields? What days are they going to be picked up on a hybrid model? We are working through all these issues now.

Looking forward, we are expecting more families experiencing homelessness. We know they’re coming when eviction moratoria start to expire. So we need to prepare for that, and be ready to help them. We are working with our community partners to be ready to help those families.

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