Children in families experiencing homelessness face many challenges – and education is one of the foremost. Positive learning experiences are difficult. Right now, these children are also facing additional health-related issues due to the vicious impact of COVID-19 – their lives are restricted and constrained; their families may not have adequate health coverage; and they are socially isolated. And – as 82% of the families experiencing homelessness in Hildebrand’s shelters and program are Black or Latinx – the children of these families are seeing the impact, and feeling the pressure, of racism, social injustice, and violence in the communities around them. To help meet the increasing complexities facing children in homeless families, and to bring a new, comprehensive, and increased level of service, Hildebrand has developed and implemented a new model of education support: the Student Success Initiative. The Student Success Initiative helps families experiencing homelessness navigate the uncertainties that come with the constantly changing educational environment in Massachusetts. Schools are still moving between remote, hybrid, and remote learning, and this may continue to change for the rest of the school year. Children with special needs may have different plans for learning and have different needs. Some parents will decide to homeschool. There is a need to help support families as they figure out how to best help their children. Experiencing homelessness as a family presents tremendous challenges and stressors already and this school year has been extra challenging with new obstacles and barriers to overcome. Many families needed extra help outside of what the schools provided and just figuring out what schools are providing and how to access those services.
Hildebrand developed education “pods” – dedicated learning spaces – for school-age children at the organization’s congregate shelters and scattered site apartments. This new education service delivery model includes an Education Consultant and Education Interns who work with all the children and families, as well as Hildebrand’s Case Managers, to help develop and maintain an educational pathway for each and every child. This is, essentially, an “Education Navigator” model. Hildebrand partnered with Lasell University in the development of this program, and several of the Education Interns are in Lasell’s graduate programs. There are also graduate students from Boston College and Widener University participating as Education Interns.
The Student Success Initiative started in fall 2020 and by November was providing intensive case work with the students and their families. Systems have been established where the Education Interns, Hildebrand Case Managers, and the Education Consultant all work together to develop action steps and plans for each family. This holistic support model coordinates the case management components for children and their families and provides whatever supports and resources are necessary and most appropriate. School/learning supplies were provided by a funder and have been distributed including folding desks, floor desks for younger children, headphones, and school supplies. Hildebrand also received funding to make sure that each and every child has the technology and internet access they need to participate in their remote learning experiences. Hildebrand’s Education Consultant and Interns were able to connect with the Boston Public Schools and the departments/individuals that work with supporting homeless families. The Education Interns have responded to the varying needs of the children and their families, with input and assistance from the Case Managers, to make sure that their support and guidance is effective and has an impact. For example, one of the Education Interns recently piloted weekly ESOL classes for the students and their parents and is actively recruiting more families to join the classes. Two other Education Interns prepared a presentation for families and the Case Managers on Executive Functioning to help build awareness about this particular set of skills and how they relate to child development and education. The more that executive functioning skills of children and teens become developed and competent, the more that the students are enabled to plan and act in ways that make them better students and positive classroom participants – skills that help them grow into organized and productive adults. The Education Interns have been incredible partners to this new program! The Student Success Initiative will continue through the second semester of this school year. The Education Consultant and Interns will then develop academic support and learning programs and activities for the summer school break (July and August 2021), and then focus on the academic needs of the students as they return to school in the fall, 2021.
Hildebrand’s goal is to disrupt the cycle of homelessness, and education is key to that disruption. Education impacts so many areas of child development: social skills; critical thinking; problem solving; cognitive skills; self confidence and self-respect; etc. In this “new normal” for educational environments and academic achievement, it is increasingly important to build in new, individualized academic supports, such as Hildebrand’s Student Success Initiative, to ensure that each student stays focused and has the resources s/he needs to maintain that focus.
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