I subscribe to an educational news feed that sends me stories from all over the world. In today's feed, there was an article about a failed initiative in Scotland as well as notes on programs from California, New Jersey, and the bus full of kids who escaped from the Minneapolis bridge collapse, just to name a few. What struck me about today's brief is that three of the articles related directly to Massachusetts. One reported that the residents of Bridgewater voted to fund their schools and cut from the budgets of other programs another praised a program for aspiring engineers. I skimmed the first two but I paid close attention to the third: Hub weighs dorm for 'couch surfers.'
Nearly 50,000 children of school age in Massachusetts are homeless. About 10% of those kids are teens who leave home to escape abuse or as a result of their own emotional and addiction issues. Now, school leaders are considering adding a residential program to an alternative high school in Roxbury.
There aren't many people who wouldn't be moved by the stories of the kids profiled in the article, many of whom live in extreme poverty and spend their nights couch surfing:
"In some ways, a school doesn't have any business getting into housing. But what some of these kids may need most is a consistent home where there is order and people around who they can trust and who have their act together," said DeWitt Jones, chairman of the board of trustees for Boston Day and Evening.
Shaquillia Meadows, 16, who spent the last school year bouncing among friends' homes, sleeping on air mattresses, said she would benefit from a residential program at the school, where she is a sophomore.
"I felt like dropping out, but, honestly, I don't want to end up like my mother," said Meadows, who wants to study forensics in college. "If I had somewhere to go home to and eat and shower and rest my head, I would be like, 'Ok, now I could finish school.' "
As Dickensian as some may perceive boarding schools to be, I've spent time in residential schools and that are, for some kids, the first time they've been in a stable environment with a routine and predictable rules and boundaries. Sure, the lure of the street is powerful and these kids arrive with more baggage than they can carry but for these kids, the presence of one steady, charismatic adult can change them forever.
"...some educators and advocates for the homeless say the program could be risky for the school because it might distract administrators from their primary mission, education, as they take up the role of a social service agency." Of course the program will be risky. Of course it will. But I'm not sure a well-run residential program is any riskier than a teenager living on the street. Funding for education is always controversial. I happen to believe that the best programs aren't always the most heavily funded and that towns, such as Bridgewater, need to decide where their priorities lie when writing budgets.
But when you take into account all the risks that homeless teens face- pregnancy, addiction, incarceration, dropping out of school- and weigh them against the expense of a program that has the potential to provide a chance to right the ship. I vote for the ship.