Yesterday I attended the McKinney-Vento training workshop run by NYS-TEACHS (New York State Technical and Education Assistance Center for Homeless Students), which is funded by the NYSED and housed at Advocates for Children of New York. The training sessions are geared primarily toward educators and service providers who might not be aware of the educational rights of children in temporary housing (that is, children who do not live in a dwelling that is fixed, regular, and adequate).
Michelle Frank, the Assistant Director of NYS-TEACHS, was a very clear, enthusiastic, and informative speaker. She led two of the sessions I sat in on that introduced me to the McKinney-Vento Act and the supplementary Title I, Part A Program. Remember: enroll first, ask questions later!
The third session I attended was the youth panel. Five young people ranging in age from about 16 to 21 spoke about their personal experiences as students in temporary housing. We were all struck by their openness, eloquence, and inner strength. They each left us with a piece of professional advice:
- ask questions so you can be aware of what’s going on in the lives of struggling students;
- put students in touch with programs that can really help them if you are not equipped to help them yourself;
- mentorship is invaluable to young people who see very little reason to maintain hope;
- persevere with these young people, as they themselves are working to persevere in their own lives;
- take the time to talk and to listen, and never give up on these kids.
A lot of what they said really resonated with what I have learned about the educational and emotional needs of youth in foster care, which is really an extreme version of what gets said about teenagers in general: It will seem like they don’t want to open up and simply want to rebel against the adults in their lives, but deep down, these teenagers really need adult support and they are just looking for the right opportunity to open up to a person whom they can trust.
Speaking of foster care, I also had the opportunity to meet with Montgomery Smith, STH Program Manager in the DOE’s Office of School and Youth Development. Once students receive their foster care placement they are technically out of his domain, but he was kind enough to hand me his card in case I continue to run around in circles hunting down statistics on the high school graduation rates of students in foster care.
One very in-demand man whose hand I did not get to shake was that of Councilman Robert Jackson, who dropped by in the middle of the first break out session. I actually live in his district and have been down to his office with some neighbors to address quality of life, traffic, and sidewalk issues on my block (some of which have since been resolved). It was thrilling to hear the Councilman’s support for educational funding. As an alumnus of Upward Bound, he said he really understood that certain kids need a bit of extra support to get through high school and acquire the skills they need to succeed in college. He certainly hasn’t heard the last of me!