Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is reporting a decrease in students experiencing homelessness this year, while local shelters are seeing an increase in families seeking help.
Why it matters: With public schools continuing virtual learning until at least January 19, the usual systems in place for tracking housing instability have broken down, mostly because it’s harder to contact students and their parents when they’re not in school.
- Without in-person check-ins, students experiencing homelessness are falling further behind.
State of play: The CMS Board of Education has an emergency meeting scheduled on Thursday to consider in-person learning changes. Following guidance from the county that schools and workplaces operate remotely, it’s possible that the board votes to extend remote learning.
By the numbers: With countless jobs lost due to the pandemic over the last year, it’s almost certain that the number of students without stable housing has increased.
But, as it stands now, the numbers don’t show the increase. The district says it’s identified about 2,000 McKinney-Vento students this school year (the federal homeless assistance act protects students without permanent housing).
- But, 2,000 is a low number, a district representative tells me. During an average school year there are closer to 4,000 McKinney-Vento students.
- During the 2017-18 school year, 4,598 CMS students were experiencing homelessness.
- Zoom in: It’s likely that a large number of students without stable housing just haven’t been identified this school year.
Big picture: You might be tired of hearing about Charlotte ranking last among major cities in upward mobility, but that 2014 study is still a big deal. Essentially it means Charlotte children born into poverty don’t have the resources they need to make it out of poverty.
- Education is key in improving upward mobility, but the pandemic has only exacerbated inequalities in the education system. As a result, it’s even harder for low-income students to learn, which for some will translate to lost opportunities for college and well-paying jobs in the future. [Go deeper]
What they say: CMS teachers tell me that students experiencing homelessness have to do everything from work in closets to find a quiet space to neglect their own work to help younger siblings. Not to mention the toll food and shelter insecurity can have on a child’s ability to focus on school work.
Deronda Metz from Salvation Army Charlotte says their women and children’s shelter has grown during the pandemic. Right now they have about 150 school-aged children living in hotel rooms with their families.
- Metz says there were about 400 women and children staying at the Center of Hope shelter in 2019. Now that number has grown to about 540 women and children being served by the Center of Hope (these families are living off-site in hotel rooms).
Metz says they’ve been able to get students the equipment they need to do their virtual school work, but other things still get in the way.
- “They’re resilient,” she said of students experiencing homelessness. “(But) I think that our children probably have a little bit more distraction because they’re learning how to survive.”
Moving forward: Despite the setbacks, she’s hopeful that because all students, not just students experiencing homelessness, are struggling with virtual learning, they’ll be educational reform in the future.
- “Our kids stood out because they may have been the minority that was experiencing some sort of instability,” Metz tells me. “Now it seems to be more inclusive. I’m thinking surely CMS will put something in place to help fill the gap from where our kids have (fallen) behind.”
What’s happening: Efforts to support students experiencing homelessness have mostly come from the private sector, and most focus on younger students. CMS does have a few dozen remote learning partner sites for students who need a place to go during the day.
- The Steve Smith Foundation is holding a virtual support program for 108 elementary school students experiencing homelessness. The program includes tutoring, daily meals and transportation. [Go Deeper]
- “This is something that we’re not going to see the ramifications of how this has impacted (students) for months, years, but this is something that’s going to reverberate through the education system for a very long time,” said Gerard Littlejohn, Steve Smith Family Foundation executive director.
- The YES Academy is partnering with CMS to help students with remote learning.
- The YMCA is working with students living at The Harvest Center.
- The Prodigal Son Program also has programs to support vulnerable students with virtual learning.
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