Perspectives on Back To School

It’s that time of year again.  Buying school supplies and clothes, lunchboxes and bags, needs and wants as the kids get ready to go back to school.  So many things to remember and tend to so that the new year starts off right.  Many parents dread the process but love the result as things get back to “normal” and the routine is back in effect.  It’s a time of excitement and change mixed with some fear for the students as they  head off to new schools, new teachers, and new opportunities.

It’s a completely different experience for homeless youth, like those served by The Ark’s Services For Youth.

Did you know that, based on the most recent data available (2010-2011), there were 1,162 homeless students in Kalamazoo County alone?  Statewide, there has been a 300% increase in the number of homeless students between the 2007-2008 and 2009-2010 school years.  For these youth, going back to school means something very different: having regular hot meals available, having a safe and comfortable place to be for eight hours a day, and simply having the opportunity to feel like life is normal for awhile.

Despite these positives, homeless youth face severe challenges, not the least of which is having the proper documents to register in a school and the ability to get transportation to the school on a daily basis.  They are often highly mobile (as they seek food and shelter) and this mobility greatly impacts their school stability and educational continuity.   These students often lack the supports they need to academically succeed, spending much of their time trying to locate a safe place to sleep, food to eat, and dealing with the emotional and physical challenge inherent with not having a home.

If a student is able to regularly overcome these barriers and attend school, how does the fact of homelessness effect a student academically?  Profoundly, according to the latest reports from the State of Michigan.  Homeless youth are:

  • 4 times more likely to show delayed development than their peers.
  • 2 times more likely to have learning disabilities than their peers.
  • 2.5 times more likely to be below grade level in math.
  • 1.5 times more likely to be below grade level in reading and spelling.

Why are we sharing these facts?  These youth — homeless students —  seek our services on a daily basis.  We are honored to walk with them, connecting them to resources and helping them build stability in their young lives so that they can succeed — academically and otherwise.  We hope these facts highlight the importance of the work we do — helping youth to access the resources they need to succeed and to reunify families who are faced with crises and homelessness.

As you spend the next few weeks getting your students ready for school, please consider youth who do not have the same resources and supports and please consider reaching out to them.  We would love to have your assistance in this life-changing mission.  Please call Jeannine Boehm at 269-381-1234 if you would like to help.

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