Explore the services offered by Denver Public Schools to the rising number of homeless students and their families within the district.
One of the most important components to breaking the cycle of poverty across the United States is education. In Colorado, one school district is taking that theory to heart, by providing its own students with basic supplies to ensure a successful education experience. Whether the family needs food, clothing, or even a home of their own, Denver Public Schools is available to provide much needed assistance to students and their families within the district. In some cases, the school system is the first line of assistance struggling families moving into the city come in contact with.
The Need Grows
According to a report at CBS Local, Denver Public Schools has around 2,000 homeless students this year, which translates to about one homeless child in every classroom. That number marks a 30 percent increase for the current school year alone – an alarming statistic that has left homeless shelters filled to capacity and required some families to live out of their cars because there is no more room for them at city shelters. Filling the needs of these families is no easy task, but the Education Outreach Program through Denver Public Schools has been doing its best to help those struggling families find relief.
Still, homeless students have more than their share of challenges. According to Bridges 4 Kids, 14 percent of homeless students have to repeat a grade due to moving to a new school, as opposed to only five percent of the rest of the population. Homeless children are also three times more likely to suffer from behavioral or emotional issues than children with a stable home life. Children don’t have to be living on the street to be considered in this category of homeless students. The classification also applies to students living in motels, camping areas, safe houses or with friends and family. That broader classification greatly increases the number of students who are considered homeless in Colorado today.
About the Educational Outreach Program
It can be hard for local governments to identify homeless families in a timely fashion to offer aid when it is needed most. Schools may be in a unique situation to find these families the quickest, since students enrolled in the district may demonstrate needs faster than their family members. For this reason, Denver Public Schools established the Educational Outreach Program to identify homeless families in the district and provide them with resources and services necessary to help them get back on their feet.
The Educational Outreach Program provides basic supports to help students break the cycle of poverty, according to the website for Denver Public Schools. The program focuses on two primary areas when addressing the needs of students: school readiness and student success. School readiness applies to students getting ready to enter the arena of public education for the first time. School success encompasses the years a student is in school, working to improve completion and success rates for those students.
The Education Outreach Program meets the needs of homeless Denver families in a wide variety of practical ways, including:
- Assistance with school enrollment and advocacy for students
- Free breakfasts and lunches at the schools for qualifying students
- School supplies and backpacks for students in need
- Transportation help to get students to and from school
- Assistance with clothing or the purchase of school uniforms
- Resources to help families find emergency housing options
On the website, the Educational Outreach Program provides a referral service that allows community members to refer families in need to the program. The process has recently been streamlined to provide assistance to families with less paperwork and red tape than ever before. The organization also posts current fundraising opportunities community members can participate in to raise money and resources for the Educational Outreach Program.
A Snapshot of Practical Help
CBS Local reports on how the Educational Outreach Program recently helped a family of five with a single mother find housing and the supplies necessary to enroll and keep all four children in Denver Public Schools. The mother of the clan, Dena Lewis, recently moved to Denver with her four children after leaving an abusive relationship. Lewis, two teenagers and two toddlers began their life in Colorado living in one room in a motel in the city. The room did not have access to a stove for preparing meals, and the bathroom did not work properly.
The first support Lewis found in the city was through Denver Public Schools. The Educational Outreach Program provided the family with school supplies and hygiene items for the children, as well as hats, gloves and coats to stay warm during their first Colorado winter. They even sent food home for the family to eat on evenings and over the weekend, when the students could not get their free meals at school.
“We know our children are being fed breakfast and lunch at school,” Anna Thiesen, homeless liaison for Denver Public Schools, told CBS. “We really worry about weekends and other times that they are out of school.”
Thiesen reiterated the philosophy of the school district that education is the key to breaking the poverty cycle, stating, “We need to make sure our kids have everything they need to be successful in our schools.”
Children cannot learn effectively when they do not have enough food or a permanent place to sleep. The Educational Outreach Program recognizes that truth and does everything they can to reverse the poverty cycle in their own Denver community. Thanks to this program, many homeless families in Colorado are getting the supplies they need to survive until they can get back on their feet again.