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Tearing Down Barriers for Homeless Students in Newport

This article appears at RCN via our partnership with KY Forward. It is written by Terri Darr McLean and originally appeared in Kentucky School Advocate, the monthly magazine of the Kentucky School Boards Association.

The morning bells have not yet rung in the halls of Newport Independent’s schools, but a line has already begun to form outside of Danny Burridge’s door in the district office. A stack of messages and an ever-growing to-do list wait on the inside.

Burridge is just a few weeks into his position as the new homeless education coordinator for the 1,700-student school district in Northern Kentucky. With at least 11 percent of those students considered homeless – lacking a stable, adequate, nighttime residence – he has had to hit the ground running.

“Prioritizing the needs of people is one of the hardest things to do,” Burridge said. But, he quickly added, “getting them in school is the most important thing.”

Eliminating the barriers that keep homeless children out of school is the top priority for Burridge and others in similar positions around the state. Federal law requires every school district in the United States to ensure that homelessness does not stand in the way of a child receiving an education.

In Kentucky, where more than 35,000 school-age children meet the definition of homeless, all school districts have a person designated to work with the homeless population, often the director of pupil personnel or enrollment coordinator. But only 17 have full-time homeless education coordinators like Burridge whose positions are funded with a federal McKinney-Vento grant.

“Having someone own this program is our greatest asset,” said Newport school board Chairwoman Ramona Malone. “A lot of these (homeless) kids come to school with so much on their minds. It really impedes their ability to focus if they’re worried about where they’re going to sleep when they leave school … and they can’t learn. A lot of emotional issues come with that situation as well. Now, our kids come to school without those things on their minds, and what will happen is those barriers will be removed.”

Newport pupil personnel director Mike Wills, along with the youth service center and family resource coordinators in the district, began to notice an increase in homeless students a couple of years ago. The economic downturn and high rate of home foreclosures, coupled with such ongoing issues as domestic abuse, drug abuse and joblessness, are among the contributing factors, he said.

There is more to this story and you can read the rest at KY Forward