[Hpn] *Long*:Earlier to Rise: Homeless children wake hours before school to commute

Morgan W. Brown morganbrown@hotmail.com
Tue, 19 Jun 2001 14:16:20 -0400


Below is a forward of an article regarding children and their families who 
are homeless in or around the Long Island, New York area. Following the 
forward article, are Web addresses for a related article as well as photo's.

Since the article mentions school segregation of children who are homeless, 
following the Web addresses for the related article and photo's are Web 
addresses for additional information on the subject FYI.

Morgan <morganbrown@hotmail.com>
Morgan W. Brown
Montpelier Vermont

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-------Forwarded article-------

Tuesday, June 19, 2001
Newsday <http://www.newsday.com>
[Long Island and Queens, New York]
Top Stories
Earlier to Rise
<http://www.newsday.com/special/homeless/home619.htm>

Homeless children wake hours before school to commute

by  Lauren Terrazzano
Staff Writer

It's 6:40 a.m., and the yellow minibus rumbles loud down Montauk Highway, 
until it stops, sputters and turns into the parking lot of the Best Eastern 
Motel in East Quogue.

The only other people out on this chilly spring morning are the flatbed 
truckers headed east to construction jobs and a few drivers who pull into 
the 7-Eleven next door for their 16-oz. cups of coffee.

Mariana Soto's children -- Jessica, Maria, Christina, Angel, Michael and 
Jose -- are finishing their juice and doughnuts on the porch of their motel 
unit.

They have been up for an hour, ready to begin what has been their daily 
odyssey since they became homeless eight months ago, and the county sent 
them to this fading motel in the Hamptons.

All told, the trip of school bus 3029 will take close to two hours and about 
60 miles to deliver these children back to their Brentwood school district, 
to the one stable force in what has become an otherwise unstable life.

"It's a long ride; I just look out the window,” said Soto's son, Angel 
Reyes, 10. "When I get to school, I'm tired. Sometimes I, like, fall asleep 
on my desk.”

As more families become homeless for longer periods, the education of the 
1,500 homeless children on Long Island increasingly is one of the toughest 
challenges for educators, advocates and the children themselves.

Getting to and from classes each day is half the battle. Homeless children, 
60 percent of whom are school-age, are scattered with their families in 
shelters and motels.

Bus rides can be long and the routes change daily. There are medical 
emergencies, children arrive late or have to wait a long time after school 
to get picked up.

The issue is most acute in Suffolk County, where families are assigned to 
housing based on what's available and can be placed as far away as the East 
End. Bus rides are shorter in Nassau County, because it allows families to 
choose a motel or shelter closer to their children's original community. 
While the majority of Long Island families choose their original districts, 
educators and educational experts remain divided about which alternative is 
best for the kids with long commutes.

Also, dozens of homeless children routinely miss school for days, weeks or 
even months as families migrate from home to shelter or motel. Some school 
districts resist admitting homeless children or fail to provide them with 
government-mandated services, education officials and advocates say.

For two weeks, seventh-grader Raymond Riley killed time in a Bay Shore motel 
room because the East Islip school district refused to acknowledge that his 
family had become homeless.

"When I wasn't in school, I was depressed. I was sad. I was bored,” said 
Raymond, whose favorite subject is math and whose parents say routinely 
scores in the 90s on his exams. "At one point, I thought it was my fault. It 
was really hard for me, so many things at once.”

In other cases, homeless students struggle academically because they've 
missed so much school and because their family structure already is 
fractured in other ways, as parents deal with poverty or drug use or 
domestic violence.

"Our test scores are [some of the] lowest on Long Island,” said Marietta 
Fuentes Mee, a school board member in Amityville, where the number of 
homeless children has increased significantly in recent years. "Having a 
number of transient and homeless children makes it more difficult for this 
district to deliver the academic services that they need.”

Other problems, while perhaps less momentous, nonetheless are vexing for the 
children and their families. For instance, many homeless students can't 
participate in such after-school activities as sports or have no quiet place 
to study at home.

Soto's daughter, Jessica Reyes, 14, said she would have tried out for the 
girl's basketball team this year at the North Middle School in Brentwood, 
"... but because of everything going on, I couldn't.” A late bus after 
practice, for instance, wouldn't have gotten her back to her motel in East 
Quogue until 8 p.m.

Long Island districts are struggling to make sure homeless children's 
educations don't get lost amid the chaos.

"School is often the only stabilizing influence in these kids' lives,” said 
Moses Greene, Brentwood's attendance coordinator. "It's the law. They are 
entitled to it.”

The McKinney Act, a 1987 federal law, gives homeless children the right to 
attend school in the district where they had lived or the district to which 
they have moved. Congress amended the law in 1990 to provide funding for 
services such as busing and counseling. Eleven districts on Long Island 
receive some sort of McKinney funding and some, such as Brentwood, have 
developed programs that the state considers models.

But districts on Long Island and in other suburban areas in New York don't 
always follow the legislation, state officials say.

"They either don't want to acknowledge they have homeless children, or they 
don't know how to deal with them,” said Gay Wainwright, the coordinator of 
education for homeless youth at the state Education Department.

When Jean Riley and her family became homeless because an apartment they 
planned to rent fell through, they moved into the Summit Motor Inn in Bay 
Shore four months ago. She hoped East Islip school officials would let her 
children finish out the year in the district they had attended most of their 
lives.

Instead, she said, school officials told her that Jennifer, 10, and Raymond, 
12, could not because the low-rise motel was not in the district's 
boundaries.

Her children missed about two weeks of classes while Riley, a waitress, and 
her husband, a construction worker, pleaded with officials to re-enroll the 
children.

"My husband and I are trying to do the right thing; we work,” she said, 
adding that they are still having trouble finding an apartment they can 
afford. "I never expected the school district to do this. I thought they 
would help. But we got nothing.”

Wainwright said the East Islip district misinterpreted the law by not 
considering the Rileys homeless because both parents worked and the family 
was living in a motel.

Finally, school officials agreed to admit the Riley children after 
Wainwright intervened. She said the state is pursuing legal action against 
the district. A lawyer for East Islip declined to respond to Wainwright's 
comments citing confidentiality rules.

Such enrollment problems occur in part because suburban areas historically 
haven't had to deal with homelessness.

"The city certainly has more experience with the geographic concentration, 
so they're the ones getting confronted with this by the dozens on any given 
day,” said Anthony Ciaglia, the assistant superintendent in Freeport and a 
former principal in Westchester County. "You won't see that kind of 
magnitude in most of the communities in Nassau.”

Manhasset school officials say it's even a challenge to determine which 
students are homeless because many families fear the stigma they feel would 
follow the disclosure. The district says without knowing who is homeless, it 
has a difficult time providing the additional academic or psychological 
support the children might need.

"People who have become homeless, unless they tell us, we do not know it,” 
said Robert Feirson, the assistant superintendent for Manhasset. "Often, the 
only way we know is secondary evidence of mail being returned.”

If children switch districts, the children's records often are incomplete 
when they arrive at a new school.

"It's a difficult thing if you don't know where these kids have been,” said 
Mee, the Amityville school board member. "I think these kids are seriously 
behind the eight ball. I wonder if they'll have a chance of getting on an 
equal playing field, and it's not from anybody's lack of trying.”

Even when schools are receptive to providing services, the rules of county 
bureaucracies sometimes keep children out of classes.

Steve and Marianne Kovalovsky became homeless in March after the owner of a 
Ronkonkoma house they were renting evicted them after a dispute over a 
broken stove.

It took a few days just to negotiate emergency housing with the county. 
Then, because social services required the entire family, including all six 
children, to appear at departmental interviews, the kids missed four days of 
school in the Connetquot district, said Marianne Kovalovsky, who handles 
warehouse orders at P.C. Richard & Son.

Social service officials said that on rare occasions do they grant children 
waivers from having to go to the department.

The county settled the family at the Best Eastern Motel in East Quogue, 67 
miles from the children's schools. Steve Kovalovsky, now a service manager 
at an auto dealership, didn't let his children ride the bus even once. 
Instead, he drove them to and from school each day in his 1989 Jeep 
Cherokee.

"I refused to let them sit on a bus for three hours, said Kovalovsky, whose 
family has since been moved to a small house in a shelter program.

But the Kovalovskys at least have a car, which not only allows them to 
bypass the bus but to get to the children's schools in emergencies. Other 
homeless kids who get sick during the school day often have to tough it out 
until school lets out.

"The hardest part is when they have fevers or a flu -- it's really 
frustrating,” said Dorothy Taitz, the school nurse at Hemlock Park 
Elementary School in Bay Shore. "I feel sorry for the children because they 
should be home in bed.

"We're not allowed to give medicine unless a doctor has prescribed it,” 
Taitz said. "We can't even give Tylenol to get the fever down. We give them 
ice packs and try to make them as comfortable as possible. If the fever 
spikes past 103, we rush them to the emergency room.”

The nurse's office at the Hemlock Park school has two blue vinyl couches, a 
shelf full of children's books and toys, and the only version of managed 
care that many homeless children receive.

A 1998 study in the American Journal of Diseases in Children found that 
about 30 percent of homeless children have no regular source of medical 
care. Despite the expansion of health insurance plans for children, homeless 
parents often lack the transportation they need to get their children to the 
doctor, experts say.

Taitz said she now gets at least a visit a day from a homeless child. One 
boy needs his asthma medication every morning. There are colds and flus to 
attend to. The homeless children, like many who live in poverty, are more 
susceptible than other students to such illnesses due to poor nutrition, 
which compromises their immune systems. Meanwhile, a lack of sleep weakens 
many of the kids, Taitz noted.

"We used to be about boo-boos and Band-Aids; now we do so much more,” said 
Taitz.

But educators across the country and in other parts of Long Island have been 
experimenting with new programs to better serve homeless schoolchildren.

In Phoenix, an alternative school provides on-site social services in 
addition to a food pantry to serve the children's families. While critics 
have assailed the segregation of homeless children from non-homeless 
students, advocates say it's a place where children can receive 
comprehensive services, and where their circumstances won't embarrass them.

In New York, the state Education Department last year opened the New York 
State Technical and Education Assistance Center for Homeless Students in 
Riverhead. Kate Ventura, the center's director, acts as a liaison among 
homeless families, school districts and the state. But she says she spends 
most of her time trying merely to ensure that children get to school and 
have the legally mandated services, like busing or extra academic help, they 
often need.

A statewide study done by NYS-TEACHS last year suggests a reason: School 
districts have been falling behind in providing services. Only 30 percent of 
the districts surveyed acknowledged the presence of and provided services to 
homeless children, the study showed.

Some advocates believe that while there are some districts that fulfill 
their responsibilities to homeless students, many try to discourage them 
from enrolling.

"There are a lot of factors that influence why a district will or will not 
educate a child, from not understanding the legal mandate, to the fear of 
how these students might affect the curve” of student grades, Ventura said.

Each day at 3:30 p.m. at the Brookhaven Elementary School in Brookhaven 
hamlet, about 30 children gather for an after-hours program designed to aid 
homeless students, many of whom live at the nearby HELP Suffolk shelter in 
Bellport. For two hours a day, it becomes a place where they can make their 
own decisions, develop academic skills and build self-confidence, said 
assistant principal Bette Errig.

The school also has hired a part-time psychologist to deal exclusively with 
the needs of the homeless children.

"We show them how to deal with each other, and we have a much better chance 
of improving their behavior and avoiding aggressive behavior,” Errig said.

On a recent day in May, the students were busy making murals about different 
prehistoric periods for an end-of-the-year show to which their parents would 
be invited.

"How are we going to get this done?” teacher Tara Seifert asks the children.

"Cooperate,” a boy yells out.

"No fighting,” another adds.

A skinny girl in a dirty red T-shirt chimes in: "Be respectful of one 
another.”

However, the homeless students sometimes don't remain at the school long 
enough to benefit from such programs: One day they are in school, and then 
they are gone, moving on to their next shelter or motel without warning, 
Errig said. And that makes it difficult to keep academic records.

"All of a sudden, you have disappearing youngsters,” she said.

In the Brentwood School District, where the homeless population has 
increased from 98 to 127 in the past two years -- a fraction of those who've 
lost their own homes, officials suspect -- each school adopts a homeless 
family for the school year.

Working with the Brentwood teachers association, the schools provide food, 
Christmas gifts, clothing and other items the families need. Also, the 
district administration has received private donations of backpacks and 
school supplies for the children who have none.

Greene, who grew up in the community, stays in contact with the families, 
relentlessly tracking kids down if they don't show up for school.

Transportation problems, including setting up bus rides to and from their 
shelter or motel, occupy a significant portion of Greene's time.

The length of the children's daily commutes depends largely on whether their 
parents choose to have them return to their original school district, 
frequently many miles away, or to enroll them in the school closest to their 
shelter or motel.

Educational experts disagree about which is the better choice.

Because stays at shelters and motels can range from a few weeks to a few 
months, and families can be reassigned without warning, many parents opt to 
keep the children in their original districts.

"All their friends are back in Brentwood, and that's where we'll be once we 
get settled again,” said Mariana Soto, who sends her children back to 
Brentwood. Also, she admits, "I never thought we'd be homeless for so long.”

Like Soto, 77 percent of Suffolk's homeless families on Long Island choose 
to send their children back to their home districts, social service 
officials said.

But the distances that some children have to travel by bus give many 
educators pause.

"It would seem if a kid is traveling two hours and living outside-district 
for a year, we ought to re-examine that case and do what's in the best 
interest of the child,” said Ciaglia, the assistant superintendent in 
Freeport.

For the Soto children, who use their father's name, Reyes, the bus trips are 
at once jarring and sleep-inducing, with the routes tracking the transient 
lives of the families as they move between shelters and motels.

On one day in late April, Driver Callie Moore pulls up late to the Best 
Eastern, crossing off a checklist. Moore grumbles that the family at the 
first motel on his route never called to say the children wouldn't be there.

"He's here,” Mariana Soto yells to the children, and they hurriedly grab 
their backpacks and head out the door at 6:40 a.m. She hands them $2 each 
for a snack.

There is no one on the bus, so the children each get their own seat.

Jose puts his San Francisco 49ers jacket over his head to block the bright 
morning sunshine.

Michael makes an attempt to read his schoolbooks, but he begins to drift. "I 
try to do my homework on the bus sometimes, but it's too bumpy,” he says.

Jessica slides into the back seat of the bus. With her Walkman playing a 
compact disc by the rapper Big Pun, she gazes out the window.

The younger children begin to doze.

"You can understand why they go to sleep,” Moore says as the bus rocks 
along. "This is pretty early for any child.”

Arrival times are often erratic.

Sometimes, school officials say, the children get to school 45 minutes 
before class starts and have to wait on the bus or in the cafeteria. That's 
how Maria Reyes usually starts her day. "I go to the cafeteria and do my 
homework sometimes,” she said.

Or, the buses can arrive as much as 45 minutes late due to heavy traffic or 
glitches resulting from the ever-changing bus routes.

On this particular morning, Sunrise Highway is a parking lot, with cars and 
trucks barely creeping along.

At 7:20 a.m., 40 minutes after leaving the Best Eastern, Moore pulls over to 
read his map, looking for Hampton Avenue in Patchogue, where a new child 
lives.

But the map is misleading: It shows a through street where a dead end 
actually exists. Moore circles the neighborhood for 10 minutes before 
finally finding the right house and picking up the little girl.

At 7:50 a.m., the bus veers back onto Sunrise Highway, which is still a 
parking lot. Moore grows more frustrated with each passing moment. "I try 
not to keep them on the bus too long; I try to get them to school and home 
as quick as possible,” he says.

It will be another half hour before the bus reaches its first destination, 
Jessica's school, Brentwood North Middle School. She gets off without saying 
a word; the bus doors fold closed, and Moore heads out toward the children's 
final destination, the North Elementary School. Moore arrives at 8:35 a.m., 
nearly two hours after he left the Best Eastern.

In six short hours, school will end for the day, and Mariana Soto's children 
will have to make the same long trip all over again.

---End of forwarded article---

~~~Related news story & photo's:

Monday, June 18, 2001
Newsday
In a Tight Spot:
Homeless kids struggle to maintain normalcy in motels:

http://www.newsday.com/special/homeless/limote18.htm


Slide show: Childhood on Hold:

http://www.newsday.com/special/homeless/childshow.htm

~~~Related information -- FYI:

Separate but Equal?
The Truth About Separate Schools for Homeless Children:

http://www.nationalhomeless.org/truth.html

-- Note: If you have not already, be sure to read:

School Segregation and Homeless Children and Youth: Questions and Answers:

http://www.nationalhomeless.org/unequal.html

~~~Hosted at:

National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH):

http://www.nationalhomeless.org

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**In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this
material is distributed without charge or profit to
those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving
this type of information for non-profit research and
educational purposes only.**

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-------End of forward-------

Morgan <morganbrown@hotmail.com>
Morgan W. Brown
Montpelier Vermont USA



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