Thursday, November 14, 2019
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Suburbanites donate school supplies to homeless

Students from high schools in Chicago’s North Shore suburbs collected school supplies from shoppers at Office Depot in Evanston on August 27 and donated them to homeless students, the Chicago Tribune reports.

Local collection of backpacks for homeless students (Robin / Flickr CC)

The week before, the group Student Alliance for Homeless Youth held a similar drive at the Office Depot in Niles. “Due to the generosity of our communities and the additional donation last week of 88 backpacks from the Berman Auto Group, we will be providing backpacks for children living at two shelters,” the paper quoted Cindy Mogentale, SAHY president, as saying.

Michael Mogentale, 17, a senior at New Trier Township High School in Winnetka, is a co-president of the nonprofit, which enlists high school students to serve their homeless peers. “It’s sad to see,” the Tribune quoted him as saying. “A lot of [homeless] kids end up dropping out [of school]. They want to be there, but they don’t want to be embarrassed.”

In Fairfax, Virginia, public schools begin classes on September 6, but for hundreds of homeless students in this Washington suburb, having even a backpack, crayons, or a calculator can be unaffordable, the Associated Press reports.

Last year, the Collect for Kids program helped more than 34,000 students in Fairfax County Public Schools. The program is a partnership between Fairfax County Public Schools, the Office of Public Private Partnerships, and other county agencies, including the Fire and Rescue Department and the Department of Neighborhood and Community Services.

The work continues this year in Virginia, and in Washington state, church groups get in on the donation of school supplies, the Columbian in Vancouver, Washington, reports.

The Promise Church and Woodland Action Center distributed school supplies to Woodland School District students last Friday at the church. Community members brought the school supplies in advance, even bringing some of them to the Woodland School District offices. School starts tomorrow.

Nationwide, up to 2.5 million students—about one in 30—are homeless or highly mobile. Causes range from poverty and lack of affordable housing to racial inequities and trauma. The Great Recession magnified the problem.

Numbers are a little difficult to determine, though, since about three-fourths of all families meeting the federal definition of homelessness “couch surf” with friends and may have an address on record. Better tracking is needed in order to bring money to the schools destined to help homeless students, but once districts get that money, they have to spend it on stuff more substantial than backpacks or flash drives.

Homeless kids need wraparound services, probably more than they need school supplies, research suggests.

“Principals and teachers usually know that they can use the funding for backpacks and bus tokens for homeless students, but district leaders can help them develop services such as counseling as a way of helping the students toward their academic goals,” said Ronald Hallett, associate professor of education at the University of the Pacific and lead author of a study last year about providing funding to support the growing population of homeless students.

“We need to realign our policies and procedures if we are going to improve academic outcomes for homeless and highly mobile students,” he said. His study, with Justin Low and Linda Skrla, was published in the International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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