[Hpn] FW: L.A. Times Story on Separate Schools

chance martin streetsheet@sf-homeless-coalition.org
Tue, 12 Jun 2001 09:28:59 -0700


----------
From: Barbara Duffield <bduffield@nationalhomeless.org>
Date: Tue, 12 Jun 2001 09:25:28 -0400
To: streetsheet@sf-homeless-coalition.org
Subject: L.A. Times Story on Separate Schools

Below is the story from today's LA Times. I am fuming about all the
inaccuracies - of which there are many, including the title.

But at least this story looks at integration and gives our side the
last word.  But don't mind me, I'm just sputtering with
indignation....

***************

Tuesday, June 12, 2001

Educators Are Split Over Separate Schools for Children of Homeless

Learning: Proponents cite extra attention. Critics say segregation
could be traumatic.

By MARIA L. LA GANGA, Times Staff Writer


STOCKTON--At the Transitional Learning Center, homeless children go
to a separate school housed at a social services complex for the
city's poorest residents. In three cozy classrooms beneath a freeway
overpass, students from kindergarten to sixth grade get counseling,
new clothes and lots of attention.

In the East Bay city of Richmond, by contrast, the school district
goes to great lengths to help children stay in the same school they
attended when their families had homes. Stability is key, they
figure, for children whose worlds have fallen apart in every other
way.

To those who work to keep homeless children in their original
schools, campuses like the Transitional Learning Center are a
travesty, a new segregation for the New Economy and illegal under
federal law.
To those who run the nation's 36 separate schools, keeping homeless
children in the hubbub of a huge, indifferent district only serves to
traumatize them more and drive them out of school entirely.

As the U.S. Senate prepares this week to address how best to educate
the growing number of homeless children, advocates for both positions
are lobbying hard, in a discussion filled with politics, emotion and
anecdotal evidence but very few hard facts.

About 1.35 million children in America are believed to be
homeless--about 300,000 of them in California. Those engaged in this
fierce debate about how best to reach them worry that, without an
education, these homeless youngsters will grow up to be homeless
adults.

Jeri Cohen, homeless coordinator for the school district that serves
Richmond, says separate schools stigmatize homeless children and give
short shrift to actual teaching. Separate schools emphasize "let's
make [the children] happy," Cohen said. "Those kids also need success
in school. We try to make them happy, but we're also trying to get
some academic growth."

Sara Garfield, director of the Stockton school, sees such claims as
political correctness run amok and insists that "to compare us to the
segregation of the '50s is totally unfair. If every public school
provided the kids what they needed, we wouldn't have to open our
doors."

The problem, says James Winship, associate professor of sociology at
the University of Wisconsin, Whitewater, is that "there is almost no
data on segregated schools." Winship studies homeless families and
has found "very few places in the country that do a good job showing
the impact of education for homeless children."

Some involved in teaching the homeless even argue that federal law is
ambiguous--at least the way it is enforced in some states.
Ostensibly, states that receive funding through the Stewart B.
McKinney Homeless Assistance Act cannot segregate homeless children.

California receives McKinney funding, yet it has more separate
schools than any state--11 of the 36 listed by the National Coalition
for the Homeless, of which seven are public campuses.

None of California's separate schools gets McKinney funds, although
some schools in other states do, like the Thomas J. Pappas School in
Phoenix, the biggest in the country.  "We get $42,000 in McKinney
funds," said Ernalee Phelps, resource development director at Pappas.
Regardless of the law, "the state department [of education] gives it
to us anyway."

As the U.S. Senate began debating the education bill this year,
Arizona Republicans Jon Kyl and John McCain co-wrote an amendment
that would allow schools like Pappas--which President Bush visited
while campaigning--to continue getting McKinney money.

"While some have argued that the existence of programs for homeless
children makes it easier for mainstream schools to evade their
obligations under the McKinney Act, the hard reality is that such
programs exist because regular schools were not meeting homeless
children's needs," the senators wrote in a letter asking for their
colleagues' support. Such logic makes Barbara Duffield, director of
education for the National Coalition for the Homeless, sputter
withindignation. McKinney money exists to help districts break down
barriers that keep homeless children out of school, she says. It does
not exist to segregate them further.

Few would argue that the women and men teaching America's homeless
children have anything but those students' best interests at heart.
But it is difficult to figure out which type of school does the best
job. The 80 or so students at Stockton's Transitional Learning Center
are now on a break between the end of the traditional academic year
and the beginning of summer school. The three pink school buildings
are quiet. The center's three credentialed teachers spent much of
last week visiting local shelters for parent-teacher conferences.

Garfield, who founded Stockton's homeless school with the San Joaquin
County Office of Education, says that homeless children have a vast
array of needs--not just educational--and that a center like hers can
meet them best.  "Our therapist was trained at the Jungian Institute
in Switzerland," Garfield said. "These kids need that type of
intensive help. They can't be in school if they're suffering trauma."

Garfield says her students are never around long enough to take
standardized tests that could help track their progress. So it is
difficult to compare their achievement with that of students in other
districts.  But all of the center's students are given assessment
tests in areas such as word recognition and comprehension when they
arrive. Those who stay 60 days are given a follow-up test. Between
January and May, 84 were pretested. Of the dozen who had later tests,
Garfield said, 10 showed at least a year's growth.

Class size at the center is smaller than at other public schools,
with about five children per adult in each class. Kindergarten and
first grade are combined in one class. Second- and third-graders are
taught together, as are fourth-,fifth- and sixth-graders.

The instructional day is an hour or so shorter than in traditional
schools, but not by design. The school has a contract with the
Laidlaw bus company to pick up children at shelters and motels and
bring them in. They don't arrive until 9:40 a.m. "because we have no
access to the buses" any earlier, Garfield said. "The bus takes the
Stockton Unified School District kids first."

Cathy, 38, who asked that her last name not be used, became homeless
this year, knocked down by a bad divorce and a workplace injury. In
the past year, her daughters Ryana, 10, and Sierra, 9, attended three
elementary schools.  They just finished the school year at the
Transitional Learning Center and are living at the Stockton Family
Shelter next door until they find an affordable apartment. Cathy
would have liked the girls to stay at Reese Elementary in Lodi, 20
miles away, where they spent most of their elementary school years.
Short of that, she appreciates the small class size at the center.
"In a larger class, the teacher would barely be lucky to remember
their names," she said. "With everything they're going through, it's
nice they get to hug their teachers."

By contrast, in the West Contra Costa Unified School District,
homeless coordinator Jeri Cohen spends time and money ensuring that
the 900 homeless children she serves attend the same school no matter
how many times they move.

Much of the McKinney Act funding the district receives goes toward
bus fare or gasoline so children who lose their homes can stay in the
same school. Other special funding is used to hire counselors for
schools with high concentrations of homeless children.

Cohen cites Grant Elementary School in working-class Richmond as a
good example of what can happen with large doses of planning and
caring. As many as 15% of the students at Grant are homeless,
estimates Principal Rene D. Carranza. Each grade level has its own
counseling intern, and 40 children get help in anger management.

But the key at Grant, says Carranza, is stability and
confidentiality. The school does not go out of its way to identify
the homeless children--even to their teachers. They do make a special
effort to keep students coming to class no matter where they live.
Case management is key to keeping them in class.

Carranza cites two young brothers who, in the last several years,
lived in Richmond, Oakland, Alameda and San Francisco but remained at
Grant. Each morning they arrive at 7:15, eat breakfast, go to class,
participate in an after-school program and then hop a bus
home--wherever that is.

In recent years, Cohen has begun keeping statistics on her children's
achievement, tracking such things as attendance and results of
standardized tests.  "I can't say we've made tremendous gains," she
said. "But I can say that I've maintained the kids at the same level
as .. . other kids of poverty. They do as well or better than other
kids . . . who have homes."

Up on stage at a year-end talent show for fourth through sixth grade
at Grant, a homeless sixth-grader who had been arrested for
prostitution at age 12 shimmies through a dance routine with three
classmates.

Blending in "may be the greatest sense of normalcy these children
feel," Carranza said. "Stability and success are what this school can
provide."

Copyright 2001 Los Angeles Times


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