BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — Many local students are struggling to keep afloat and the Kern County Superintendent of Schools is expecting an increase in the number of homeless students amid the pandemic crisis.
Curt Williams, the director of the Mckinney-Vento Homeless Education Program, said he wants students to know that while life may be uncertain right now, their education doesn’t have to be.
“Our county is the ninth highest in the state as far as homeless students,” he said. “We are the highest in the Central Valley.”
Williams said last year around 5,000 students in Kern County were identified as “homeless” under the Mckinney-Vento Homeless Act.
“A lot of the times we think of people living in the streets or in cars or in homeless shelters,” he said. “Under the McKinney-Vento Act one of the biggest numbers we find in over 80% of our students here in Kern County are what we call doubled up.”
Williams said this refers to students who are transitioning between homes, meaning they lost their home to financial hardship and they move in with a family member or a friend.
According to the Kern County Superintendent of Schools, 97% of homeless students move up to three times and 40% attend two different schools within a single year. Williams said this will result in three to six months of learning loss.
“It's traumatic for children, that uncertainty, unfamiliarity, not knowing where they will be eating next, sleeping next. Not having friends they can debrief with, all those things contribute to performance in school,” Williams said.
With concerns that numbers may increase amid the pandemic, Williams said they are expanding their outreach to assist with local school districts.
They recently got 212 tablets and other types of devices from the California Department of Education, and are applying for other opportunities where students can connect to hotspots, primarily homeless students.
They will also launch a new online referral form to link families to their school district, develop peer to peer mentoring groups for homeless students, and provide online training to teachers and staff on identifying students who may be eligible.