SPRINGFIELD — Springfield school district is slightly above the national average.
The terrible thing is that the statistic is not about test scores but about homelessness.
The 25,000-student district has a homeless population that is slightly more than 2.2 percent. In real numbers, that is 551 children, from preschool through high school, who have no place to call home. Some live in cars, shelters, motels; most are sleeping in someone else’s house —doubling up — until their family can find a place of their own.
The federal definition of homeless is when a person has no “fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence” —no place for a child to lay her head at night, no bed where mom or dad can tuck him in, no bedroom where she can snuggle up with a book or giggle with a friend.
The U.S. Department of Education recently released new data showing that a record high 1.16 million U.S. students were homeless last year or about 2 percent of all students.
Nationally and locally, those numbers have been growing at a frightening pace. First Focus, a children’s advocacy group, reports that national numbers have grown by 72 percent since the recession began. In Springfield, the numbers have nearly doubled.
Those children and their families are our neighbors. They will grow up here and continue to face poverty-related struggles if the entire community doesn’t step in to make a difference.
The school district has taken some important steps, including allowing students who must move out of school boundaries to continue to attend their original school. This is significant, according to educators, because it provides continuity in an otherwise disrupted life.
Homelessness, hunger and poverty are terrible roadblocks to educational success. By stepping in to provide needed services, such as busing so students have transportation to their original school, one roadblock is gone. Free meals — in some schools, even nonstudent family members can eat — removes another roadblock.
Springfield Public Schools, as are other districts in the region, is working hard to respond to these troubling needs. It is important that the community support those efforts and recognize that any work or funding spent on keeping a young student on track so he or she can complete their education will pay off in the long run.
Ask any teacher in Springfield if they have ever had a student whose life has been turn upside down by poverty and homelessness, and he or she will share heartbreaking stories.
With district and community support, we know that teachers can also report amazing successes.
Copyright Springfield News-Leader. Reprinted with permission.