In a previous Look Into Education blog, we shared about the homelessness crisis affecting students across the nation. But the question remains, how do you identify an issue that is often hidden, and what can educators do to help alleviate the crisis?
Many schools have liaisons who are trained in identifying indicators of student homelessness, however Erin Ingram and other authors of the report Hidden in Plain Sight: Homeless Students in America’s Public Schools proposes that all educators, administrators and school staff should have this training and work together to identify the problem and address student needs.
For now, however, here are a few red flags teachers can look for in students according to Ingram when considering if they are in an unstable situation at home:
- Signs of emotional and mental stress, depression, fear or worry
- Extreme fatigue
- Unpreparedness for school
- Falling behind in grades and homework assignments
- Increase in absenteeism
- Students who were once engaged with peers becoming more withdrawn and silent
- And beyond
Teachers can work together with other school staff members to monitor a change in student behavior. For example, bus drivers may report noticing that students are no longer getting off at the same stops they once were, or cafeteria workers may notice students suddenly trying to take home extra food.
Sonya Romero, a kindergarten teacher at a low-income school in Albuquerque, New Mexico is an excellent example of awareness and attentiveness when it comes to the needs of her students. In a recent interview on the Ellen Degeneres Show, Romero shared that every morning she asks her kids if they’ve eaten that morning, if they need anything to wear, if they need to brush their teeth or comb their hair.
“We usually spend the first hour of our morning getting ready for our day to learn,” Romero explains. “I feel like as educators we’re sort of the first responders.”
Seated in the position of first responder in many cases, what can educators do when they notice the red flags listed above?
Ingram suggests education leaders ask, “What are our community assets? What are the organizations that we have that can maybe help us fill some of the gaps? How could we work together?”
This may look like using posters in the school to raise awareness and let students know of safe or confidential ways they can get help or point them in the direction of who to talk to at school.
It can mean making yourself aware of resources in your community that are offered to those struggling with homelessness—a practice William Woods education students develop in the course EDU301- Family and Community Resources. Learn to match needs to resources through meeting with students and parents or sending handouts home to let them know of the community support available to them and what rights they have.
As educators, we can actively work with students to help them stay in school — possibly offering extensions or alternative assignments for students who may not be able to access computers or the Internet after school hours, or giving students some leeway around late arrivals or absences due to homelessness.