Under the McKinney-Vento Act, it is the role of the local educational agency (LEA) to designate a liaison for homeless children and youth. The "LEA" is the school district.* The LEA liaison coordinates services to ensure that homeless children and youths enroll in school and have the opportunity to succeed academically.
While the LEA is responsible for ensuring compliance with the McKinney-Vento Act, it is most often school personnel who have first contact with a student experiencing homelessness. Identification of students eligible for support through McKinney-Vento is the critical first step to meeting these students' needs. Teachers, aides, counselors, nurses, and other school staff can help by learning how to identify signs of homelessness and strategies for helping homeless students be successful in school
*In some states, charter schools are designated as LEAs. In those states, the charter schools must also assume the role of the LEA in fulfilling the mandates of the McKinney-Vento Act.
WHY MCKINNEY-VENTO IS IMPORTANT TO EDUCATORS
Teachers play a critical role in creating a classroom environment that is safe and supportive for all students. For students in temporary housing, a safe and supportive environment includes sensitivity to the stress and trauma that often accompanies homelessness. Classroom teachers provide much needed stability for homeless students and are often the first staff members to notice signs that a student’s housing status has changed. They play a critical role in connecting these students with needed resources and support.
SIGNS OF HOMELESSNESS
Be familiar with common characteristics of students in temporary housing including:
Enrollment at multiple schools, gaps in learning, attendance problems
Poor hygiene, lack of preparedness for class, extreme exhaustion
Ongoing behavior challenges as these may be a result of chronic stress or stress related to housing instability
Social cues such as extreme shyness, clinginess, difficulty with peer and/or adult relationships, “old” beyond years, uncharacteristically aggressive or withdrawn
Lack of participation in class/field trips and/or afterschool activities.
WAYS EDUCATORS CAN HELP
Be sensitive to the stigma of homelessness (e.g. talk to the student privately about the living situation and use the term “temporarily housed” rather than “homeless”).
Make the student feel safe and welcome (e.g. deliberately connect the student with a mentoring program or other extracurricular activity; make snacks and/or hygiene supplies available; praise effort and strengths in order to build confidence; give the student opportunities to lead; emphasize partnership, not power; etc.).
Ensure that the student has every opportunity to participate in school activities. Consider using Title I funds to provide school/project supplies, cover field trip fees, purchase uniforms, etc.