Youth Homelessness – The Education Challenge

Every day many students experiencing homelessness in Washington have the hope and knowledge that there are people out there who believe in them and are willing to give them a chance to succeed in school.  This is thanks to Masons from all over Washington who are supporting our efforts to help these students succeed in school.

Every young person deserves a good education.  For most young people public schools provide that opportunity, but what happens when a young person experiences homelessness?

A report prepared by the Urban Institute* showed that:

  • Homeless children frequently change schools
  • For some, residential instability can affect attendance
  • Residential instability affects academic test scores – lower scores on standardized reading and math tests
  • Many homeless students lack the necessary tools for academic success – lack of safety, and lack of stable and safe home environments may impede learning, the ability to complete homework assignments, and often combined with poor or no access to school supplies
  • Homelessness and the instability created by it are traumatic events for young people…trauma can lead to behavioral problems, and behavioral problems are often associated with poor academic outcomes
  • In schools, high rates of turnover in students related to residential instability actually harms schools overall
The number of young people experiencing homelessness has been on the rise every year for well over a decade.  In Washington more than 42,000 students experience homelessness during the year, and upwards of 13,000 of these students don’t have parents or adult relatives looking after and supporting them.  Below is latest Washington data compiled by Schoolhouse Washington, a program of Building Changes.

So what is being done about it?

Congress created the McKinney-Vento Homeless Children and Youth education program.  This program required each school district to identify homeless children, remove barriers to enrollment in school, and provide services to increase opportunities for academic success.  This is accomplished by each state having a coordinator, and school districts being required to have staff who assure compliance with the law.  However, these positions are not funded by the Federal government, leaving the states and local districts to fund staff and necessary resources.  Local district staff rely on community resources to provided the necessary assistance and support.

Washington Masonic Charities partners with local Masonic Lodges and local school districts to provide these resources for students that school staff identify as needing assistance that they cannot obtain elsewhere.  This program is known as the On the Level Student Success program. This year we have assisted more than 330 students across the state.

Our goal is to help the schools keep the student connected to the school so they maintain their attendance and academic performance.  We help schools provide resources that aren’t available from other sources.

We do this as Masons, because a good education is so vital to being a good citizen in a participatory democracy. The classical Trivium and Quadrivium are important ideas in Masonry.  Grammar, Logic and Rhetoric.  Arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music.  These are essential components, classically speaking, for an individual to be capable of free thought, to formulate and evaluate ideas, and ultimately to be a wise and capable citizen.  Conversely, ignorance is the playground of tyranny.  Brother Benjamin Franklin wrote, “Without freedom of thought there can be no such thing as wisdom; and no such thing as public liberty, without freedom of speech.”

We want to see as many young people graduate with a high school diploma or receive a GED as possible, because, in the end, the diploma or GED are not only predictors of better wages, less need for social services or public assistance, and less strain on the criminal justice system, but they also give young people the working tools necessary to be good citizens.  The bottom line is that it is good for the student and good for the community.

For more information or to get involved in helping these young people succeed in school, please contact or (253) 442-2525.

*Residential Instability and the Mckinney-Vento Homeless Children and Education Program; What We Know, Plus Gaps in Research, Cunningham, et al 2010

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