By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

School district reaches out to provide stability where needed

School district reaches out to provide stability where needed

During the 2011-12 school year, 119 of McMinnville School District’s 6,490 students, or 1.83 percent, were homeless at some point. Across Oregon, the number of homeless students topped 20,000, according to the state Department of Education.

Rates were higher in several outlying districts, led by Sheridan at 5.5 percent.

“Homeless” differs in each situation. It may mean several elementary-age children living in a car or a shelter with their parents, for instance. Or it might be a teenager who’s on his own, couch-surfing at the homes of various friends.

Whatever their situation, homeless students receive services from schools so they cannot only access, but benefit from, education.

McMinnville, like other school districts’ others around the state, has a homeless liaison. She works with Yamhill County and state agencies to ensure the students and their families receive the support they need, whether it’s clothing, food or temporary shelter.

“Survival comes first. It takes precedence,” said Maryalice Russell, McMinnville school superintendent.

Teachers, principals and other school staff members may notice patterns that provide clues that a student needs help. The student may be absent frequently, move from school to school, or have trouble focusing on classwork.

“We want to provide as much stability as possible,” Russell said. “We do everything we can so they can stay in the same school, if it’s appropriate — if they have made connections.”

For instance, a student might be enrolled at Newby Elementary School. If his family finds a place to live in Lafayette, he could remain at Newby instead of transferring to Wascher.

Counselors and teachers also help homeless students have access to extra-curricular activities, which may give them additional connections to school and learning experiences.

“We try to remove any barriers they may have,” Russell said.

Homeless students qualify for free meals, so they are able to eat twice a day at school. The district also is able to provide some vouchers for additional meals, and the homeless coordinator can make sure families have access to area food banks.

“We want to connect them with other resources to provide stability during the other 16 hours a day when they’re not in school, too,” Russell said.

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