Homeless education: Supporting student and family resilience in the face of poverty and hardship

In 2005-2006, close to one million homeless children in our nation faced unprecedented challenges trying to access and succeed in public schools. Fortunately, legislation was enacted to support this special needs population. The types of support mentioned in the McKinney-Vento Act include: transportation to and from school, immediate enrollment in school, and access to supplemental programs and school activities. Research on homeless education identify barriers students encounter and suggestions for effective policy and strategies to support them; however, there is a gap in the literature in terms of research identifying effective program components that might facilitate academic success. The literature on resilience identifies protective components that seem to project children facing adversity onto positive pathways, such as, forming meaningful relationships, creating a caring environment, creating a sense of belonging, developing community involvement in school, and developing positive family relationships. This dissertation addresses the gaps in literature by exploring the components of district McKinney-Vento programs serving more than 1,000 homeless students and identifies risk factors that exist in school districts with McKinney-Vento programs. Finally, this study documents protective components that exist in McKinney-Vento programs as well as the unique components that exist in programs with a higher percentage of homeless children scoring proficient on the Language Arts (LA) portion of California's Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) test. The goal of this study is to inform school leaders about effective strategies and policies that promote resilience and success in education for students living in poverty and experiencing homelessness. This study finds that district McKinney-Vento programs show evidence of facilitating academic success for homeless students. Components found include the components those identified in resilience literature and are specifically connected to addressing students' socio-emotional, basic and academic needs. Similarly risk factors were identified in all six districts and can be compared to those cited in homeless and resilience literature. Duration of the program also diminished risks and increased positive outcomes. The districts with the greatest academic success as measured by the LA portion of the STAR showed the most evidence of creating positive family connections and focusing on student and family strengths.

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