Schools facing rise in homeless students
Schools serving homeless children are seeing an increase in enrollment, straining their ability to serve the most vulnerable students.
When Sarita Fuentes thinks of homelessness, she doesn’t conjure the stereotypical image of a disheveled older man pushing a shopping cart through an urban neighborhood—she thinks of her students.Skip to next paragraph
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“What I see are these babies—elementary school children and their siblings,” said Ms. Fuentes, the co-principal and CEO of Monarch School, a San Diego-based, public K-12 institution that exclusively serves homeless students.
Begun by the San Diego County Office of Education as a drop-in center for homeless high school students, the 170-student Monarch School is now a public-private partnership between the San Diego Board of Education and the nonprofit Monarch School Project. It's one of a small number of schools across the country that serve students affected by unstable housing conditions. These schools, along with other schools nationwide, are seeing a growing number of students who are homeless.
Experts say the economic recession has exacerbated youth homelessness, and schools serving this vulnerable population are now being challenged to keep up with the students and offer the unique services to which they are entitled under federal law. According to a 2009 report [PDF] released by the National Center on Family Homelessness, an average of one in 50 children in the United States has experienced homelessness, which is defined as not having a stable, long-term place to stay. This ranges from children temporarily living with extended family members to living in homeless shelters or inside cars.
Bursting at the Seams
The San Diego area has been hit especially hard economically. According to the San Diego County Office of Department of Education, there were 13,204 homeless students countywide during the 2009-2010 academic year.
Joel Garcia, co-principal at Monarch School says the school has seen about a 74 percent increase in enrollment in the past three years. While the school never turns away its students, Mr. Garcia and Ms. Fuentes say the school has outgrown its current space. This summer, it will begin work on a new building in which school officials hope to serve about 350 students. When Ms. Fuentes arrived at the school in 2004, enrollment hovered around 100 students in grades 3 through 12.
“We’re using every little space to maximize our facility,” Ms. Fuentes said. The school has already started to use its library as a classroom, and it is currently looking for nearby space to erect “storefront classrooms” within walking distance of the school, she said.
In March, the school began a soft launch of a $7.5 million capital campaign for its new home. It plans to remodel the interior of the building and move in by the 2012-2013 school year.
The school does not recruit students—most of its families learn about it by word of mouth or through social-service referrals, usually while living in shelters, Ms. Fuentes said.
Homeless in Arizona
Not too far away, in Arizona, another school serving homeless students has seen its waiting list grow.