South Middleton School District recently received a $15,000 federal grant to help faculty and staff members support the needs of homeless and transient students.
The grant was made available through the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Improvements Act of 2001, said Alex Smith, district director of student services.
“We don’t have the exact allocation for the entire $15,000, but we are brainstorming,” Smith said Monday. One proposal is to spend about a third of the grant money on professional development, he said.
Training would involve not just teachers, but such staff positions as coaches, bus drivers and building secretaries, Smith said. “They are on the front lines. They are seeing students every day.”
The training will focus on ways to identify potential homeless and transient students and to guide them to support programs within the community, Smith said. “There is a resource out there where we can get three years of professional development courses tailored to staff for one lump sum.”
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In May, Smith briefed school board members on the need to include a social worker position in the budget for 2021-22, which the district approved. The district hired Angelina Romano to fill that position.
Smith said one trend driving that need was a five-fold increase in the number of students in the school district who are homeless and living in a shelter or are being shuffled among different locations depending on their circumstances.
In spring 2021, 15 students in the district fit that description compared to three in 2018, Smith said. It’s hard to say whether the five-fold increase was due to greater efficiency by the school district in identifying students or actual economic and social conditions, he said.
“I believe we are doing better at identifying students who have home insecurities,” Smith said Monday. “We have a social worker who can take a deeper dive into family situations and have an understanding of all the factors and components that can lead to these insecurities. She is going to have a major role in determining how this [grant] money is going to be allocated.”
There are no plans to use money from the $15,000 grant to fund the social worker position, Smith said. Instead, that expense will come out of the district’s general fund budget.
In May, Smith cautioned against the use of COVID relief money or short-term grants to fund what should be a long-term position.
“What we are trying to put into place are not Band-Aids to resolve some learning loss or mental health needs,” Smith said. “We are trying to establish a system that is pervasive K-12 so that when students have needs, there is support for them.”
He described the social worker position as an expert in building partnerships and working as “the glue” between the school, home and community.
The McKinney-Vento Act requires that homeless students have access to all programs and services for which they are eligible including special education services, preschool, school nutrition programs, language assistance for English learners, online learning and before-and-after-school care.
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