cry for help

Four sobering facts about the city’s 86,000 homeless students

PHOTO: Stephanie Snyder
Chancellor Carmen Fariña reads to a group of three- and four-year-olds living at the HELP Bronx Crotona Park North shelter.

New York City’s worsening homelessness crisis is taking a punishing toll on tens of thousands of students.

That was the theme of a City Council hearing Thursday where lawmakers questioned education department officials about how they are supporting the more than 86,000 district and charter school students who live in temporary housing — a 25 percent increase since 2010. Of those students, over 23,000 live in homeless shelters.

“This is a call to action,” said Councilwoman Vanessa Gibson, whose South Bronx district has an especially high rate of student homelessness. “A cry for help.”

In response, officials announced a major new initiative: They are now sending yellow buses to pick up thousands of additional students who live in shelters. The idea is to keep those students from having to switch schools even if they move into a distant shelter, as well as to spare them from long morning commutes on mass transit.

The service will reach 2,500 students in kindergarten through sixth grade, officials said. To offer it, the city created 189 new bus routes, which will transport kids to some 750 schools.

In addition to the bus-service announcement, several other striking facts about the city’s homeless students emerged at the hearing. Here are four big takeaways.

1. Homelessness is seriously harmful to children.

Whether a child is staying in a homeless shelter, “doubled up” in an apartment with multiple families, or sleeping outside, the consequences can be grave.

Homeless children go hungry at twice the rate of other children, get sick four times more often, and are three times more likely to suffer from emotional and behavioral problems compared to children who live in stable housing, according to research cited at the hearing.

Those students often struggle in school. Students living in shelters were far more likely than their peers to miss school and to be suspended, according to an analysis of 2013-14 school year data by the city’s Independent Budget Office.

Only about one in ten of those students passed the 2014 state English exams, the analysis found, compared to about 30 percent of students who live in permanent housing.

2. Homelessness hits some students harder than others.

The vast majority of students living in shelters are black or Hispanic, while most of those in shared housing are Hispanic or Asian.

Young students are most likely to be homeless. More than a third of the city’s homeless students were in pre-kindergarten through second grade in the 2013-14 school year.

Homeless youth living on their own face especially serious risks, as do lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender young people who are homeless. The LGBT population accounts for a disproportionate number of homeless youth, and they are at a greater risk of bullying, sexual assault, HIV infection, and mental health problems.

3. It also hits some schools harder than others.

Most homeless students are clustered in a small number of schools.

In 2013-14, just one-third of city schools served nearly 70 percent of all students who live in shelters or shared housing, according to the IBO.

Those schools, however, do not necessarily get extra funding to meet those students’ many needs. Instead, all schools that receive federal Title I money because they serve a large share of high-needs students are told to set aside $100 of that funding for each student in temporary housing, according to the IBO.

But that “$100 could not be stretched beyond a school uniform, sweatshirt, or backpack,” the IBO’s education policy analyst Liza Pappas said at the hearing.

4. “Temporary” housing can be anything but.

The IBO found that many students living in shelters or doubled-up housing had been staying there for more than one year.

About two-thirds of students living in a shelter in 2013-14 had been in that same situation for at least one of the previous three school years, according to the IBO. For students in shared housing, the rate was 62 percent.

“The data suggest that for at least some students,” Pappas said in her testimony, “these ‘temporary’ housing arrangements are long-lived.”

Fabiola Cineas contributed reporting.

father knows best

How a brush with death convinced one dad to get his diploma, with a boost from the Fatherhood Academy

PHOTO: Courtesy of Steven Robles
Steven Robles with his family

Steven Robles thought he might not live to see his daughter’s birth.

In May 2016, the 20-year-old was in the hospital after being shot during what he described as an argument in his neighborhood.

A year later, Robles just graduated from City University of New York’s Fatherhood Academy. He passed his high school equivalency exam and is happily celebrating his daughter Avare’s 8-month birthday.

“That conflict is what got me into the program, and what happened to me before she was born motivated me to stay in the program,” Robles said. “It motivated me to manage to pass my GED.”

Robles grew up in Brownsville, Brooklyn and attended Franklin K. Lane High School. Though he liked his teachers, Robles said other students at the school were not “mature enough,” and the disorderly school environment made it hard for him to concentrate.

A quiet student, Robles said teachers would often overlook his presence in the classroom. Between that and friction with other classmates, Robles lost interest in school.

“My parents didn’t try to help me, either,” Robles said. “Nobody really tried to help me with that school, so I just stopped going.”

It was a whole different experience for him once he arrived at the Fatherhood Academy at LaGuardia Community College, a program run by CUNY for unemployed and underemployed fathers ages 18 through 28. The Academy, now partnering with the New York City Housing Authority at its LaGuardia location, was launched in 2012 and also has programs at Hostos and Kingsborough Community Colleges.

“I have interviewed many of the men who come into the program and I often ask the question, ‘What brought you here?'” said Raheem Brooks, program manager of the Fatherhood Academy at LaGuardia Community College. “Mostly every young man says, ‘I’m here because I want to create a better life for my child than I had.’ So, I think the main theme of the program is that we help promote intergenerational change.”

At the LaGuardia branch, 30 students attend classes three times a week over the course of 16 weeks. Subjects include mathematics, social studies, and writing for students seeking to get their high school equivalency diplomas. Students also attend workshops run by counselors who guide them in professional development and parenting.

Robles found out about the program after seeing a flier for it in his social worker’s office at Graham Windham, a family support services organization. Curious to see what the Academy offered, he called to find out more and officially enrolled after passing a test to prove he could read above seventh-grade level.

“Before the Academy, I was not really into school at all,” Robles said. “But when I got there, it just changed my life. In this program, I didn’t know anybody there, there were no distractions. It made me more focused, and I just really wanted to get my GED and education.”

What helped Robles the most was getting to learn from the other fathers in the class, who were going through similar experiences as him.

“Little things I didn’t know, I learned from them because they were also fathers,” Robles said. “I just liked the way they were teaching us.”

In fact, he liked the Academy so much, he doesn’t plan to leave. He is applying to study criminal justice at LaGuardia Community College and to become a mentor for the Academy next year.

Currently, Robles lives with his grandparents, his daughter and the mother of his child. Getting a place for his family is next on his to-do list, he said.

“Avare always has a smile on her face and always puts a smile on my face,” Robles said. “She motivates me to get up and do what I have to do. Anything I could do for her, I will.”

Though school did not play a huge role in his life growing up, that is not what Robles wants for his daughter. He said after participating in the Academy, he wants to make sure Avare stays motivated and in school.

“I hear a lot from people about how they think they can’t do it,” Robles said. “I almost lost my life before my daughter was born and that motivated me. If I could do it, you could do it.”

Behind the brawl

Three things to know about the Tennessee school behind this week’s graduation brawl

PHOTO: Arlington Community Schools
Arlington High School is a 2,000-plus-student school in suburban Shelby County in southwest Tennessee.

Arlington High School is considered the crown jewel of a 3-year-old district in suburban Shelby County, even as its school community deals with the unwelcome attention of several viral videos showing a fight that broke out among adults attending its graduation ceremony.

The brawl, which reportedly began with a dispute over saved seats, detracted from Tuesday’s pomp and circumstance and the more than $30 million in scholarships earned by the school’s Class of 2017. No students were involved.

“It was unfortunate that a couple of adults in the audience exhibited the behavior they did prior to the ceremony beginning and thus has caused a distraction from the celebration of our students’ accomplishments,” Arlington Community Schools Superintendent Tammy Mason said in a statement.

Here are three things to know about the 13-year-old school in northwest Shelby County.

With more than 2,000 students, Arlington is one of the largest high schools in Shelby County and is part of a relatively new district.

It’s the pride of a suburban municipality that is one of six that seceded from Shelby County Schools in 2014 following the merger of the city and county districts the year before. (School district secessions are a national trend, usually of predominantly white communities leaving predominantly black urban school systems.) More than 70 percent of Arlington’s students are white, and 6 percent are considered economically disadvantaged — in stark contrast to the Memphis district where less than 8 percent are white, and almost 60 percent are considered economically disadvantaged.

The school’s graduation rate is high … and climbing.

Last year, after adding interventions for struggling students, the school’s graduation rate jumped a full point to more than 96 percent. Its students taking the ACT college entrance exam scored an average composite of 22.5 out of a possible 36, higher than the state average of 19.9. But only a fifth scored proficient or advanced in math and a third in English language arts during 2015-16, the last school year for which scores are available and a transition year for Tennessee under a new test.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visits with students at Arlington High School during a 2016 tour.

The school was in the news last August when Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visited its campus.

The commissioner spoke with students there to kick off her statewide listening tour that’s focused on ways to get students ready for college and career. McQueen highlighted the school’s extracurricular activities and students’  opportunities to intern for or shadow local professionals. She also complimented Arlington for having an engaged education community.