By Leslie Camden Goold, MSW, School Social Worker/McKinney-Vento Homeless Liaison, Central Valley School District, Washington
As the school year comes to a close, many students get excited about summer break: being able to sleep in, going on family vacations to fun and exciting places, and playing with friends. But there are a number of students who become increasingly anxious as summer approaches. These students fall under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education program. Students experiencing homelessness are anxious about losing their safety net, school meals, and access to school counselors, teachers, and other school staff to whom they turn for support during the school year.
I have worked with homeless students and their families for 17 years. In my state, and nationwide, the numbers of homeless students identified by school districts continue to increase. In the 2015-16 school year, public schools identified over 1.3 million students experiencing homelessness. Homelessness starts very early, with an estimated 1.2 million children under age six experiencing homelessness. And homelessness continues beyond high school, with 3.5 million young adults ages 18-25 living in homeless situations each year. This occurs at statistically equal rates in rural and urban areas.
We also know that lack of a high school diploma or GED is the top risk factor for young adult homelessness. This means that if we are not successful in our efforts to implement the McKinney-Vento Act and help students experiencing homelessness graduate, the number of people who experience homelessness will continue to rise.
This June, I am stepping outside my comfort zone to honor the unknown challenges that these students face every summer and raise awareness about homelessness. I am going to hike a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail to acknowledge the daily struggles these students are facing without the safety net of school. I will publicize my journey in the local media, and invite those moved to help to contribute to my McKinney-Vento program.
Please join me in doing something outside of your comfort zone to raise awareness and support in your community. Hike a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail, the Appalachian Trail, or another wilderness trail in your area. Take every step in the name of the students in your school district who are experiencing homelessness. Help raise awareness so that student homelessness can be a thing of the past.
SchoolHouse Connection is supporting us in this effort by providing promotional materials we can customize for our communities, a template press release, a sample op-ed, and a national platform to highlight our journeys and raise awareness. Join SchoolHouse Connection’s Facebook group to meet other liaisons, service providers, and advocates participating in this summer hike and to access the resources SchoolHouse Connection is providing.
Step into discomfort to help our youth step out of theirs.