One in every 33 Manteca Unified students — as defined by federal law — is homeless.
Some of those students may live in cars a night or two then bounce between weekly motels rooms when their parents can afford them. A number are in homeless shelters such as those operated by HOPE Ministries. Others are children of migrant farm workers.
The largest segment is part of families sharing housing of other persons due to economic hardship. They may also be sheltered in motels and camping grounds.
Under the definition of homeless incorporated in the 1987 federal McKinney Vento Act that mandates school districts identify and provide certain services to homeless students, Manteca Unified has 711 homeless students out of an overall enrollment approaching 24,000. That’s down from 903 during the last school year.
The Manteca Unified board has secured a Transitional Student Success Grant to augment existing efforts to assist homeless students. That grant is funding an outreach assistant as well as a Health and Safety Specialist-Homeless/Foster Aide.
The key to Manteca Unified’s success in helping homeless students function better in school was the decision a number of years ago to have teacher liaisons that receive referrals about homeless students at each site.
That “point of contact” — a teacher that handles homeless referral at each site —is not required by federal law. They communicate with the referring classroom teacher to keep tabs of academic progress and the need for academic intervention.
In a nutshell the grant allows Manteca Unified to provide case management for families with complex issues to augment the teacher liaisons that serve as the point of contact on campus. Besides school-related issue, it involves assisting families in accessing community resources such as transportation, emergency food supplies, health benefits, medical appointments, and birth certificate and immunization records.
Manteca Unified Superintendent Clark Burke noted the more robust effort to assist homeless students the grant will translate into a more attentive student.
“The goal is to (make it possible) for students to succeed,” Burke said.
It is also means the money spent on educating homeless students will be more effectively spent. California taxpayers spend more than $10,000 per student a year educating those in the K-12 public school system.
Burke points out if issues that make it difficult for them to focus on learning are addressed the ability of homeless students to succeed in school improves.
The outreach assistant is dedicated to assisting with training and support as well as to serve as the contact for homeless program coordinators at each campus.
Other duties of the outreach assistant are:
having direct contact with families in transition under the supervision of the health and safety specialist.
assisting with setting up necessary resources for families in crisis including referring families to outside agencies for emergency housing, food, and transportation. A few of those agencies will only accept referrals from the Manteca Unified School District.
assisting with providing necessary supplies for student success including personal hygiene items and backpacks.
conducting site visits to determine if a student is experiencing any barriers to attendance and learning and working to resolve any issues that may exist.
That is in addition to the services mandated by the 1987 federal law including:
Making sure homeless students are immediately enrolled without requiring documents such as immunization records or proof of residence.
Transportation to and from school of origin. There are four vans dedicated to that purpose with trips often going as far as Lodi and Stockton to make sure students stay in get same school throughout the academic year.
Free breakfast and lunch.
Counseling at school sites.
While Manteca Unified complies with every federal and state requirement concerning assisting homeless students, staff makes a concerted effort to go beyond the minimum thanks in part to the community and other parents stepping forward.
Those additional efforts include:
School supplies and backpacks.
Clothing, shoes and other items as needed to ensure full participation in school.
Medical/dental referrals and assistance accessing these services.
“Often time homeless students have to move suddenly and don’t even get to toss their belongings in a bag,” pointed out Deputy Superintendent Roger Goatcher. “They may only have the clothing on their back when they leave.”
One of the most high profile Manteca Unified efforts going beyond government mandates that benefits both homeless students and other students in need from families struggling financially are clothes closets operated at eight campuses.
To stock those clothes closets, some school sites have adopted campus endeavors. Woodward School, as an example, has an annual Socktober event that has collected more than 1,500 pairs of socks annually for the past three years. Another campus, be.tech, does backpack, blanket, and hygiene item drives.
MUSD Coordinator of Health Services & Homeless Leslie Agostini noted the community can reach out to their local school for more information. She pointed out some of the bigger needs are unused underwear and socks as well as gift cards at Walmart, Target and such places to purchase high demand clothing items such as shoes that the clothing closets may not be able to supply when needed.
Shoes can be real dicey given how kids often outgrow them before they are worn out. While the shoes look fine, teachers note if they are ill-fitting it is a significant distraction for students in the classroom.
Shoes and clothes are taken back by the clothes closets if they have been outgrown and gently used. They are then washed and made available for other students in need.
Donations from groups such as the Manteca Sorptomists, Women of Woodbridge, Remax, the Manteca Interfaith Community Appeal, Manteca Quilters, Shasta School students and private donations also provide everything from backpacks and toiletries to blankets.
School staffs have developed networks within the community of individuals they can go to when a homeless student has a pressing need such as dental issues. Those helping often provide their free services on an off day such as Saturday and prefer to remain anonymous.
To contact Dennis Wyatt, email firstname.lastname@example.org