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Mifflin County School officials were not aware of the severity of the homeless situation affecting the students in their area. Once they found out last year, they took immediate action. The administration organized various different fundraising opportunities to help the students in need. They were shocked by the number of students affected.
Homelessness is something school districts deal with more and more each day, and Bellwood-Antis is no exception.
When you think of someone who is “homeless”, what’s the first image that comes to your head? Is it people on the streets in big cities, carrying their only possessions in stolen shopping carts, holding signs begging for any extra change? Or is it a high school student who’s living from hotel to hotel in an unstable situation that they have no control over?
Both of these scenarios involve a homeless person, but one is less noticeable.
Being homeless doesn’t necessarily mean a person is living on the streets, though that is a common misconception. Bellwood-Antis high school counselor Mrs. Danielle McNelis said for schools homelessness is defined by the McKinney-Vento Act.
“Some examples include those living in public shelters or places not designated for regular sleeping such as vehicles, parks, motels, campgrounds, etc. It can also include those living with or doubled up with relatives or friends due to lack of housing or economic hardship,” she said.
Students may not realize that their peers are living in homeless conditions. Kids in this situation can feel a number of emotions during hard times like these, like embarrassment or shame. This can be another factor that causes homeless students to go unnoticed.
The number of homeless students has skyrocketed over the last decade, when the number increased by 70 percent.
Many reports have linked homelessness to poor academic outcomes and increased truancy.
An unstable living situation can cause unnecessary stress on young ones. Students should be stressing about big exams or who they are asking to the school dance, not where they’re going to sleep for the night or how they’re getting their next meal.
The Bellwood-Antis School District, in comparison to other schools in the area, has a lower percentage of homeless students. However, this problem still has a big effect on the kids going through the situation.
District officials said the school does everything they can to help students in this situation.
High school principal Mr. Richard Schrier said despite the small percentage of students affected, the school does provide aid in the ways that it can.
”What we do is offer resources to the students, for example they automatically get eligibility for free lunch,” he commented. “ We would provide transportation to students that need it.”
Homelessness isn’t just a problem for older students in the district as homelessness can affect any age and any family. For a young kid, it can even a be an even harder transition. Homelessness can take away their childhood and force them to mature at a young age.
Unfortunately, this is a problem at Myers as much as it is in the high school.
Mrs. Kelly Foust, the elementary school counselor, commented that there are students in the elementary school who are struggling with homelessness, and they can react to it in different ways emotionally.
“I feel that students who are in an unstable living condition definitely have more emotional needs. Typically when kids end up designated homeless it is due to issues such as low socioeconomic status, families separating, etc., so the student is already handling a lot emotionally and then you add on an unstable living condition,” Mrs. Foust said. “Some students become more emotional, some withdraw from others, and others act out in anger.”
In a lot of situations, the child can be homeless for a temporary time. Nevertheless, Bellwood-Antis school does everything it can to help a child in need.
For example, the school offers programs like the Blue Devil Backpack Program. This program allows students to take a home a bag of food every weekend. They also offer reduced or even free lunches to students who might not have the finances to pay for their lunch everyday.
On top of these programs, the Bellwood-Antis School district also offers emotional support to anyone who needs it. The various guidance counselors in the school are always available if a student just needs to talk.