“Ninety-two percent of the children rated school as ‘very important’ to them, while parents, when asked an open-ended question what their children needed the most, indicated that a good education was the most important need after basic survival needs of housing, food, and clothing have been met.” (Jacobs) These children and parents that answered these questions were not just normal people living middle class lives. These people “lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence or live in a shelter, an institution, or a place not designed, or ordinarily used, as a sleeping accommodation for human beings” (MacGillivary). To simplify, they are homeless. People are struggling with homelessness and it often goes unnoticed. There are many people all over the world who need help in getting a proper education, but their living situation is not letting them receive the education they need. The graph below from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development shows the amount of homelessness in just the United states alone. This essay will show the effects of homelessness on children and family literacy, or the ability to read and write and to receive a quality education.
In her academic journal, Mary Jacobs accounts the stories of six homeless families and their experiences with homelessness and literacy. The families she interviewed lived in a homeless shelter in College Town, Chicago. Jacobs ran a family story time at the shelter and interviewed the six families that came to her program. These families came to this literacy program because literacy and education is important to them, as you can see from the quote at the opening of the paper. “All of the families in the study moved from inner city neighborhoods to College Town in search of a better life.” These families moved to the shelter in search of a new life and better education for their children. One couple, William and Julissa, “left Gary, Indiana to provide a safer environment” (Jacobs).
All of the families interviewed had good intentions and motives when living in the homeless shelter. They wanted their kids to have a chance at a proper education. Below is a graph from homesforfamilies.wordpress.com, that shows the amount of homeless students in school per academic year. “Parent optimism for the future was strongly supported by their common belief that education played a key role in changing their children’s lives for the better.” The parents don’t think that their families lives are stuck once they move to the shelter. They view the shelter as a safe haven and an opportunity for their kids to get the education they need to keep them from having to live in shelters like their parents. (Jacobs)
However, there is a problem in this situation. Despite how good the intentions of parents are or how much the families want an education, there is still a significant gap between homeless students and the school system. “Neoliberal education policy ascribes value to particular literacy practices within the institution of school, while limiting and denying access to people on the margins of these practices, boosted by economic policies that lead to racial, ethnic, and class exclusion such as gentrification and the encroaching privatization of education.” (Jacobs) In order to do well in a neoliberal school system, one must regularly attend school, work for long, studious hours on homework, and turn everything in on time and in it’s proper order. These may seem like simple, no brainers to those privileged to have a stable learning environment. Homeless children don’t always have this advantage. They don’t have a car to get consistent rides to school and if they move from shelter to shelter frequently, they don’t always even have a school that they stay at for a long period of time. In the shelters they face a different problem. There might not always be a quiet space to study available to them. Even if they wanted to work on their homework, they can’t always find a place to get work done in. Finally, if the homeless children can’t get to school consistently they can’t turn in things when they are due. Not to mention, they could possibly not be able to afford the supplies and meet the demands that the teachers require for their assignments. If a student must type something and turn in a printed copy, they won’t always have a printer available to them when they need it. What most American students would view as no problem and easy requirements, homeless students view them as what will make or break their chance at completing a quality education. “If schools are expected to provide an ‘appropriate’ education, teachers and policymakers will need to know a great deal more about the nature of the academic problems these children may have and the most promising means of addressing them.” (Ann) In order for homeless children to do well in school, there needs to be serious effort put forth on both sides.
Not only is their attendance affected, but because of this lack of attendance, the homeless students’ grades are affected. Ann S. Masten and other colleagues worked on a project together that followed families after they had left a homeless shelter and followed up on their children’s performance in school. “Multiple methods were used to gather information pertinent to school success, including individual tests, school records, teacher and parent ratings, and parent interviews. We were able to test 52 of the 73 children after they had left the shelter with the Wechsler Individual Achievement Test Screener” (Ann). At the start of the study, Ann and her colleagues expected that the students would have lower scores, more complaints from teachers about classroom behavior, and worse scores over all.
The different measures taken were the Individual Achievement Test which tested “normed achievement scores for Basic Reading, Mathematical Reasoning, and Spelling, as well as a composite score, Achievement ratings based on school records where two third party judges graded students school records on a 1-5 scale, Teacher ratings of achievement where teachers filled out two forms based on the “academic potential and progress” of each child on a five point scale, Parent reports of achievement, family history and school access where parents were asked “structured questions about school achievement and learning problems”, Intellectual functioning where nonverbal and verbal reasoning were tested and scores are placed into a percentile, Teacher ratings of adjustment where teachers graded students classroom adjustment, and Procedures where the children and parents were interviewed before and after the tests. The children’s “scores were significantly below normative levels for age and for grade, with 80% of the scores falling in the bottom quartile” (Ann).
“Some homeless children are able to succeed in school despite the many challenges they face, but others are at risk for emotional, physical, social, and behavioral problems” (Walker-Dalhouse). As one has read above, there are many problems when it comes to homeless children and getting a quality education. To some of these problems, however, there are solutions. One of the biggest problems used to be that homeless children were not treated fairly in schools or provided with the same opportunities as their classmates. So, there have been many laws established to help protect the rights of the homeless children. Some of the laws include The Original McKinney Act, The Amendments to the McKinney Act, The Illinois Education for Homeless Children Act- Charlie’s Law, and the No Child Left Behind Act. Each of these laws and acts insure that homeless children will get a fair chance at the education they deserve. If they do not get a fair chance, they have the law to back them up if it is taken to court (Nix-Hodes).
Another problem is that teachers often don’t know how to teach the homeless students in a way that will be beneficial to them. They don’t always understand that the homeless students learn differently than most students. In one study, a homeless student named Leslie was asked what teachers could do to help homeless students learn better in the classrooms. Leslie said, “Moments of quiet time and alone time can be especially important for children living among the commotion of others’ noise. Also, helping children adapt to a new school is more than providing a uniform curriculum.” Leslie went on to say that clearly telling the students what the rules and expectations of the classroom are, help them accumulate to the classroom easier instead of trying to figure out things on their own (MacGillvray).
One final problem, due to moving frequently and not having much quiet time, children miss out on family literature time, like story time or nursery rhymes. In her academic journal, Elizabeth Noll says, “Because I believe nursery rhymes are important in literacy development, my students and I read and recite them together.” Noll believes that reading and reciting nursery rhymes with children when they are younger will provide them with a good foundation in reading and a good start to memorizing information. Simply finding a way for children to go to library reading times or reading books and rhymes with your children, regardless of your living situation, will help provide a good educational foundation for future schooling (Noll).
Homelessness has a huge effect on children and family literacy. Not only are the parents affected, but their constant moving the family around affects how the children do in school. As Noll says in her academic journal, quoted earlier in this essay, “Homelessness has an impact on children’s literacy experiences, understandings, and background knowledge.”