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  • T.J. Putman

Homeless - Can you attend school in your car?

Updated: Aug 21, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted all our lives, but now families with children are facing a new struggle. With schools in the Salem area focused on remote learning, many kids are finding that they don’t have the means to fully participate. Apartments can be loud and crowded, making them poor learning environments. Affording high-speed Wi-Fi service is also out of the question for some families whose adults have lost their jobs. This problem is not unique to Salem. Up to a third of all American grade-school children may face these challenges.

Even in a household with computer and Internet access, learning goals often require more parental involvement, adding a new challenge for grown-ups already struggling to manage shifting family needs.

As with many past crises, it is the poorest among us who suffer the most. Limited technology access will cause homeless children to fall behind in both education and, ultimately, in opportunity. Experts even have a name for this effect: the COVID slide.

We are called to serve these children. As a community, we might not care about the latest tech gadget, but we do care about education. What can we do to make the school year work in these uncertain times? We have an opportunity to put our faith in action and help make distance learning better for everyone.

Here is where what you can do…

If you know of a family that might qualify, contact the school district – In the Salem-Keizer area, that number is (503) 391-4060. The McKinney-Vento Act requires schools to “remove barriers to the… enrollment and retention of homeless children and youths in schools.” In the context of distance learning and COVID, an electronic device, internet connectivity, and electricity are elements that are necessary for students to enroll and remain in school. We’re thankful the Salem-Keizer School District is helping meet this need.

Support from the faith community – Congregations in our community have provided shelter for homeless families every night for the last 21 years. It might be on pause right now, but we could still use help. Do you have the space available where you can socially distance? What about space where homeless families can access the internet or can charge the laptop they need for school? What about socially distanced tutoring? We can still come alongside families even when our congregations might be apart.

Plan beyond the connection – Sometimes just finding a place to charge a device is difficult for a homeless child. Portable chargers can help. Supplemental tutoring and mentoring can keep kids on track through hectic housing changes. Remember, children living in shelter have gone through a lot of trauma and transition. We’re going to tweak a couple things at Family Promise so kids can easily study. Let me know if you have any other ideas.

Embrace the PositivesCaroline Lamar from the Family Promise in Blount County gave this tip, Make a list of the good things about this school year. Maybe it’s more flexibility in schedules. Maybe it’s the fact you can study in your pajamas? There is good in every day. Every day might not go exactly the way you want, but there is good in every day. For her family, the positives will be the freedom to take a break from schoolwork and go for a nature walk around our neighborhood.

COVID-19 may be with us for a long time, but the children whose education is affected by it will be with us longer. Their future affects our entire community – we can do this! T.J. Putman

Executive Director

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