By LaFlanicea Branch, AmeriCorps State & National Member
Educational strategies are useful for supporting individuals experiencing homelessness and offer positive benefits for both children and their families. Struggles among each individual are not always easy to identify, especially with poverty or traumatic situations. Educational resources are important with designated plans to foster the needs of the students, as well as their parents, experiencing homelessness. The lack of education makes it hard to break the cycle and prevent homelessness in many cities across the country. The McKinney-Vento Act of 1987 protects the students rights for quality education and to inform the parents of state regulated requirements.
Students could possibly struggle with different types of problems due to homelessness, such as their academics, unstable living situation, poor communication skills or sense of belonging. Oftentimes, the students’ homelessness issues are not a major “focus” providing the indicated problem, in which needs addressing is housing. The McKinney Vento Act reinforced residency laws, transportation services, enrollment and placement issues, ensuring the students are not distracted from their academics. In the article, “The Impact of Homelessness on Education'' written by Noelle Withers, published in Volunteers of America, Greater New York, states “Children experiencing homelessness lack the stability and support necessary to succeed academically.” Educational programs provide safe and secure environments for students experiencing homelessness to improve communication skills and receive academic support. Tutoring sessions, after-school STEAM activities and group discussions are facilitated by retired teachers, college students and other professionals to students and families experiencing homelessness. Withers states, “In addition to academic impacts, disruption to a child’s education threatens their social and emotional development.” These factors make it harder on the students to feel accomplished in their educational success.
The partnership between the education system and homelessness organizations positively impacted the students everyday activities, which would potentially have an overall benefit. Public schools, community centers and shelters organize programs for students to continuously build and grow social and emotional development skills. Literacy based programs assist homeless families with the opportunity to voice their opinion, allowing them to address issues and concerns with educated, supportive staff. Decreasing the homelessness issues across the country will continue to change, yet the Department of Housing and Urban Development are working on addressing the issue.
Private donations fund communities and shelters with high quality recreation, family events, parent workshops and field trips. Families experiencing homelessness issues can attempt to tackle the battle with education, support, and ongoing participation. Available resource centers for housing, employment services, school placement, local benefits, and childcare and safety are offered to homeless families. Parents are encouraged to partner with organizations in the community that respond to issues surrounding homelessness, prevention, intervention and ending homelessness.
The Impact of Homelessness on Education | Volunteers of America. Volunteers of America: Greater New York. https://www.voa-gny.org/impact-of-homelessness-on-education
United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH). (2018, May 3). Article headline. United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH). https://www.usich.gov/news/strengthening-partnerships-between-education-and-homelessness-services/
Sosin, C. (2022, November 19). Homelessness, Lack of Education Reinforce Each Other, Chapin Hall Report Says. Youth Today. https://youthtoday.org/2019/11/homelessness-lack-of-education-reinforce-each-other-chapin-hall-report-says/
Educating Homeless Children by Leah Davies, M.Ed. https://www.kellybear.com/teacherarticles/teachertip55.html
The Connection Between Foster Care and Homelessness (and what can be done to weaken it)
By Sloane Shabelman, AmeriCorps State & National Member
With an annual increase in homelessness throughout the United States, one statistic must be discussed more: of the U.S.’s homeless population, 50% have spent time in foster care, according to the National Foster Youth Institute. If we as a nation are committed to fighting homelessness, we must take this statistic into account and figure out what changes need to be made to the foster care system to decrease its impact on homelessness.
A report by Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago called “Missed Opportunities: Pathways from Foster Care to Youth Homelessness in America” dives deeper into the connection between foster care and homelessness. Three of the briefs’ main findings are as follows: between one-quarter and one-third of youth and young adults experiencing homelessness have a history of being in foster care, some young people perceive their entry into foster care as the beginning of their homelessness journey, and there are multiple pathways from foster care into homelessness (Dworsky et al., 2019).
One major pathway from foster care into homelessness is aging out of the system. Youth who remain in foster care after their 18th birthday (or 21st in some states, including Illinois) are emancipated and no longer legally in the care of the state. However, with often little money and familial support, it is estimated that 20% of these young adults become homeless as soon as they are emancipated, according to the National Foster Youth Institute.
The Midwest Evaluation of the Adult Functioning of Former Foster Youth, published in 2010, was one of the largest studies ever conducted on the experiences of young adults who have aged out of the foster care system. The study found that between 31-46% of their participants had been homeless at least once by the time they turned 26. As some states’ have increased the emancipation age to 21, homelessness has been delayed in many young adults who now have more time to learn self-dependency and life skills. However, the study showed that by age 23 they were just as likely to become homeless as those who aged out at 18, emphasized Dr. Mark Courtney, head publisher of the study. In an article by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), Courtney shared a potential solution to this issue.
“[Housing] service providers need to account for the significant mental and behavioral health challenges facing these young people as a result of their trauma histories,” Courtney said.
There needs to be a more trauma-informed approach when it comes to housing, especially in cities and neighborhoods where homelessness and the number of children in foster care is at an all-time high. There must be more knowledge, understanding, and compassion among those who provide housing towards people looking for housing with less resources and privilege because of their background, such as young adults coming out of the foster care system. With increased education, specifically aimed at housing providers, about the foster care system, emancipation, and the trauma many foster children endure, they are less likely to end up on the streets and more likely to be on the path for a successful future.
Additionally, whether the foster care system ages the children out at 18 or 21, there needs to be more focus on providing more behavioral and mental health support from trained professionals both while the young adults are still in the system and once they have left. These children and young adults have often dealt with severe trauma that could put them at a disadvantage moving forward in their education, socialization, physical abilities, and later on, in their careers. Currently, so many of these children lack the proper resources, such as therapy and support groups to help them move forward, and those who do have these resources often find them to be inadequate and underfunded. If we ever want these children to have a chance at a successful life outside of the foster care system, it is crucial that we are giving them the proper support and tools they need to cope with all they have been through and become sufficient, capable adults.
It is important to emphasize that extra support should be provided to all foster children as they are preparing to leave the system, not just those who have aged out, as all children and young adults exiting the system are at risk of experiencing homelessness at some point. According to the Chapin Hall brief, “About half of the young people interviewed who spent time in foster care [and experienced homelessness] exited through reunification or adoption. These young people achieved permanency in the eyes of the child welfare system, but still found themselves on pathways into homelessness” (Dworsky et al., 2019).
The researchers at Chapin Hall shared that in addition to providing better services and programs to prepare the young adults for leaving the system, allocating more funds and resources to housing assistance for young adults leaving to live on their own could have a big impact on their potential for experiencing homelessness (Dworsky et al., 2019). Providing extra support both financially and mentally/emotionally for reunified and adoptive families could also prevent many children and young adults from starting on a pathway into homelessness, as many find themselves put in this position when their homes become unstable and unsafe..
All of these proposed solutions, while potentially very impactful if implemented, are merely responses to a crisis that needs to be prevented in the first place: children entering the foster care system. According to the Chapin Hall brief, most child welfare funding received by states has been allocated to help children after they have already entered the system as opposed to preventing them from entering at all (Dworsky et al., 2019). If more funds and resources are allocated to strengthening and stabilizing families and providing support to new or struggling parents, less children will enter the system and less of our country’s citizens will be at risk for experiencing homelessness.
In conclusion, with the proper support and help for children leaving the foster system, and with more funds allocated to prevent them from being removed from their homes in the first place, children and young adults all over the country will be better prepared for a successful future - one that hopefully does not include homelessness.
Child Welfare Information Gateway
Illinois DCFS: 800-232-3798 / 217-524-2029
Children’s Home + Aid Foster Care Services: 877-282-4274
To Report Suspected Child Abuse or Neglect: 1-800-25-ABUSE (252-2873)
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 800.799.SAFE (800.799.7233)
National Parent Helpline: 855.4APARENT (855.427.2736) (available 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., PST, weekdays)
Dworsky, A. & Courtney, M. (2010). Extended Foster Care Delays but Does Not Prevent Homelessness. Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago. Retrieved March 19, 2023, from https://www.chapinhall.org/research/extended-foster-care-delays-but-does-not-prevent-homelessness/
Dworsky, A., Gitlow, E., Horwitz, B., & Samuels, G. M. (2019, July). Missed opportunities: Pathways from Foster Care To Youth Homelessness in America. Missed Opportunities: Pathways from Foster Care to Youth Homelessness in America | National Clearinghouse on Homeless Youth & Families. Retrieved March 19, 2023, from https://www.chapinhall.org/wp-content/uploads/Chapin-Hall_VoYC_Child-Welfare-Brief_2019-FINAL.pdf
Kuehn, B. M. (2022, October 24). Chicago professor shares findings from Foster Youth Study. SAMHSA. Retrieved March 19, 2023, from https://www.samhsa.gov/homelessness-programs-resources/hpr-resources/chicago-professor-shares-findings-foster-youth-study
National Foster Youth Institute. (2021, May 27). Homelessness & Foster Youth: The National Foster Youth Institute. NFYI. Retrieved March 19, 2023, from https://nfyi.org/issues/homelessness/
Youth Mental Health Matters
By: Ella Smith, AmeriCorps State & National Member
Trigger Warming: Mental Health and Suicide
The day-to-day lives of youth experiencing homelessness are stressful, plagued with inconsistency and often deeply traumatic. These factors inevitably take an immense toll on a child's mental health. Studies have concluded that homelessness itself can trigger a mental illness or worsen an already existing condition, even disregarding other factors such as poverty, serious medical conditions, social isolation and or other internal/external issues at play. Overall, those experiencing homelessness tend to have poorer mental health and higher prevalence of wellness issues than the general population due to living in a constant state of survival mode. With this, it becomes apparent just how prevalent the threat of depression and even suicide may become within this population. It can become easy to dismiss a young persons suicidal ideation as “childish behavior” or them “just wanting attention,” but it is crucial we treat these circumstances with the utmost care and compassion.
Among youth experiencing homelessness, the rates of depression are disproportionately high. More than 45% of youth experiencing homelessness struggle with depression, a rate 18 percentage points higher than their housed peers. Additionally, four out of five children who are experiencing homelessness have been exposed to at least one serious violent event by age 12, inevitably taking a tremendous toll on their mental health and cognitive functioning. In the United States, suicide has been found to be the leading cause of death in the homeless youth population with mortality rates due to suicide being 12 to 40 times higher than those in the housed population. A great deal of this has to do with factors typically at play before the child even realizes what’s happening to them. Some of these factors include, but are not limited to: unhealthy family relationships, neglect, poverty, life inconsistencies, physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, histories of domestic violence and lack of emotional support. With all these factors, and more, at play, it grows increasingly evident how youth experiencing homelessness are disproportionately affected by depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, as well as other mental health issues.
Though there is no single-handed solution to reduce the rates of suicide and depression among youth experiencing homelessness, it has become more and more urgent that we work to strengthen the systems that support our youth and coordinate policies which target mental health, housing, income, employment, and access to health care. Some protective factors associated with suicidality among children and adolescents experiencing homelessness are providing positive coping strategies, a supportive school environment, consistent and positive role models, and community/after school enrichment programs which provide our youth a greater sense of purpose and community. Organizations such as Covenant House provide youth experiencing homelessness, victims of trafficking, and runaway youth with services for mental and physical health, addiction treatment, workforce support, legal help, and more in order for them to advance their goals and achieve sustainable independence. Due to the disproportionately high rates of suicide within this specific population of youth, understanding the emotional, physical, and societal factors that contribute to suicidal thoughts and actions amongst them must be understood. By fully comprehending these causal factors, resources to provide positive long term outcomes for youth experiencing homelessness can be better structured and more efficiently dispersed to the populations most in need of them.
If your child is in immediate danger of self-harm, please call 911.
Suicide Hotline: 988
Suicide Prevention Resources: https://www.nationwidechildrens.org/specialties/behavioral-health/for-families/suicide-prevention-resources
How to Talk to Children about Suicide—An Age-by-Age Guide: https://www.sprc.org/news/how-talk-children-about-suicide-age-age-guide
Barnes, Andrew J, et al. “Emotional Health among Youth Experiencing Family Homelessness.”
Pediatrics, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Apr. 2018, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5869340/.
Bommersbach, Tanner J., et al. “Suicide Attempts and Homelessness: Timing of Attempts
among Recently Homeless, Past Homeless, and Never Homeless Adults.” Psychiatric Services, 29 Sept. 2020, https://ps.psychiatryonline.org/doi/10.1176/appi.ps.202000073.
Canadian Population Health Initiative of the Canadian Institute for Health Information. “Finding
Home: Policy Options for Addressing Homelessness in Canada.” 2.3 Mental Health, Mental Illness, & Homelessness in Canada | The Homeless Hub, 2007, https://homelesshub.ca/resource/23-mental-health-mental-illness-homelessness-canada
Gerke, Jane. “Health Outcomes for Youth Experiencing Homelessness.” Homeless Youth
Connection, 4 Apr. 2022, https://hycaz.org/health-outcomes-for-youth-experiencing-homelessness/#:~:text=More%20than%2040%25%20of%20homeless,their%20housed%20peers%20(29%25).
Razza, Timothy, and Yuri Flasch. “Suicidality in Homeless Children and Adolescents: A
Systematic Review.” Science Direct, Pergamon, 11 Feb. 2021, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S135917892100029X.
Criminalization of Homelessness
By: Daniel Gantner, AmeriCorps State & National Member
In our modern world, un-housed citizens continually suffer from a lack of access to food, health care, and social services. Due to this lack of access, they are at a higher risk of developing serious health conditions, both physical and mental. On top of all of this, people experiencing homelessness routinely deal with explicit criminalization in their everyday lives. Homeless criminalization not only makes it incredibly difficult for unhoused people to live, but it also ensures that many will be trapped in a seemingly endless cycle of poverty, incarceration and forced relocation.
According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, the criminalization of homelessness “refers to measures that prohibit life-sustaining activities such as sleeping/camping, eating, sitting, and/or asking for money/resources in public spaces” (NCH). These measures manifest themselves in sweeps of homeless encampments where tents, medications and other personal items are confiscated or destroyed by local police forces (NCH). They also include ordinances that make it illegal for people to request money, and in some cases, even prohibit sharing food with homeless people (NCH). These laws often aim to “clean up” the image of a particular city or town by simply moving homeless people out of sight. For example, in 2022, New York City arrested over four hundred homeless people for “being outstretched” and taking up more than one seat on a train or bus (Heyward).
Unsurprisingly, criminalizing the lifestyles of people experiencing homelessness exacerbates the problem far more than it fixes it. For instance, having a criminal record in addition to not having a permanent address makes it incredibly difficult for unhoused citizens to find employment and housing, and often makes them ineligible for social services (NCH). Further, sending them to jail overburdens our already overpopulated criminal justice system. The punishment they unjustly receive for “crimes” costs more than finding them temporary housing, often up to three times as much (NCH). In some cities, the government will even go so far as to give people one way bus tickets to other states in attempts to cut down their homeless population. According to The Guardian, “people are routinely sent thousands of miles away after only a cursory check by authorities to establish they have a suitable place to stay once they get there. Some said they feel pressured into taking tickets, and others described ending up on the streets within weeks of their arrival” (The Guardian). Despite the immediate financial and social drawbacks of criminalizing homeless populations, cities all across the country choose to prioritize the immediate physical appearance of the city over the lives of the actual people who live there.
Issues related to the ongoing criminalization of homelessness make it clear that law enforcement is not an effective tool to solve this challenge, as it instead perpetuates the cycle of homelessness and poverty. The current “solutions” of forcefully relocating or throwing un-housed citizens into the criminal justice system not only dehumanizes them, but further upholds the stigma that they are criminals. In order to effectively help people experiencing homelessness, our government must focus on providing them tangible relief and services in order to create better lives for themselves.
Heyward, Giulia (2022, November). NYC Mayor Adams faces backlash for move to involuntarily hospitalize people. Retrieved from www.npr.org/2022/11/30/1139968573/nyc-mayor-adams-faces-backlash-for-move-to-involuntarily-hospitalize-homeless-pe
Outside in America team (2017, December). Bussed out. www.theguardian.com/us-news/ng-interactive/2017/dec/20/bussed-out-america-moves-homeless-people-country-study
NCH Civil rights. nationalhomeless.org/issues/civil-rights/
Homeless Children With Special Education Should Be Prioritized: Their Lives Matter Too
By: Chase Garland, Site Coordinator
When defining what considers a child homeless, it comes from the “means individuals who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence that includes the following: sharing the housing of other persons due to loss of housing and economic hardship. Children who have a nighttime residence or regular sleeping accommodation. Children who are living in public spaces, or substandard housing. These children qualify as homeless because their circumstances are described in clauses” (NCFH 2015). Although there is a high rate of students who have children who experience homelessness, the number is also high for children who are homeless and have a disability. The term “child with a disability'' means the child has intellectual disabilities, hearing impairments, speech or language impairments, serious emotional disturbance, autism, or a specific learning disability”(NCFH 2015). Due to poor health conditions such as poor nutrition and exposure to health hazards can disrupt a child’s physical, cognitive, and emotional disabilities.
Due to the unsafe atmosphere of the household, it can be a challenge to determine what is the true factor that is contributing to the child’s disability due to the unstable condition. According to the National Center for Homeless Education, “19% of homeless students have some form of disability that compares to 14% of housed students in 2022”. (NCHE 2022) However, did you know they also reported that homeless students who receive IEPs early are more likely to remain with their grade level peers and achieve grade proficiency”.(NCHE 2022) The integrity of teachers and administration critically analyzing their IEPS plays a significant role in the child’s success in school. Homeless students whose IEP were not taken seriously are more likely to end up suspended than those who received their IEPs earlier.
Even though the issue is ongoing and not enough is being done in order for these children to receive a better quality in education, it means as a society including parents, teachers, friends, or close family should do whatever it takes to ensure the federal government is keeping track of the individual categories that homeless students have and provide additional services in schools that are free. According to the Education Week Resource Center, “They found that of the schools that require the federal law to serve homeless students with disabilities, less than one quarter of districts receive federal funding to assist in that effort” (EWRC 2018). Depending on the child, there can be considered having a specific learning disability versus having an impairment that requires a different type of support. Homeless children who have a disability are currently facing consistent challenges to make sure they get the help they need.
What can we do now to support our children with disabilities whose lives matter more just as much as children without disabilities? We can start providing services in school to support special education targeted for homelessness such as intervention services with behavior management plans for teachers to start with, priority seating in the classroom, creating a plan that eliminates social class expectations, assigning a peer mentor, regular meetings with parents or guardian, extra homework help and time to complete assignments, and providing free resources for children receive textbook, school supplies, food pantries, and clothing.
Council for Exceptional Children (CEC): dedicated to improving educational outcomes for
individuals with exceptionalities, students with disabilities, and/or the gifted.
National Association of State Directors of Special Education (NASDSE): established in 1938 to promote and support education programs and related services for children and youth with disabilities in the United States and outlying areas.
Parent Training and Information Centers: serve families of children and young adults from birth to age 22 with all disabilities: physical, cognitive, emotional, and learning. They help families obtain appropriate education and services for their children with disabilities; work to improve education results for all children; train and inform parents and professionals on a variety of topics; resolve problems between families and schools or other agencies; and connect children with disabilities to community resources that address their needs.
Coffey, Donavyn. “Disabilities Sometimes Go Undiagnosed in Homeless Students Targeted
by New Federal Education Funds, Experts Say.” Youth Today, 19 Nov. 2022,
Equity and Assessment: Moving towards Culturally Responsive Assessment - Ed.
Weiss, Thomas C. “Homeless Children with Disabilities in America.” Disabled World,
Disabled World, 9 Oct. 2021, https://www.disabled-world.com/disability/children/homeless-kids.php.
The Interconnected Nature of Homelessness, Physical Health, Mental Health, and Academic Success
By: Jake Schwartz, AmeriCorps VISTA Member
Children who face homelessness often find themselves forced to work through numerous challenges in their lives. These challenges are readily apparent in many facets of their daily lives, particularly when thinking about the ways in which their living situation directly and indirectly impacts their ability to perform at school. As it relates to academic performance, homelessness simultaneously creates and exacerbates barriers to a child’s educational success by negatively affecting their physical and mental health while also weakening their underlying support system.
When thinking about the physical effects of homelessness in a given child, it can be argued that some underlying issues could take root even before the child is born: pregnant women who face homelessness are at higher risk of developing chronic health complications, often lack adequate prenatal care, and can inadvertently expose themselves and their fetuses to environmental hazards due to unsafe living conditions. As a result of these aforementioned issues, children born into homelessness display higher rates of premature birth, developmental delays, and physical disabilities (Hart-Shegos, 1999). While these adverse effects may not be impossible to manage, they become compounded when factoring in the tendency for those facing homelessness to also be food-insecure. The effects of malnutrition through underlying food insecurity manifest in a variety of ways, most notably through the lack of critically important micronutrients that support cognitive function (Fanjiang & Kleinman, 2007). Lacking adequate nutrition is never ideal, but it is especially damaging when these deficiencies are constantly present during critical stages of cognitive and physical development in children.
Mental health and physical health are often highly intertwined with each other, so it is equally important to spend time reflecting on the adverse effects of homelessness on mental health as well. As a natural consequence of lack of adequate and/or consistent shelter, children facing homelessness tend to find themselves exposed to more overall risk and adversity than their peers, and this lack of safety/security can have a direct negative impact on a child’s social and emotional wellbeing (Lafavor, 2018). There may not be concrete ways of measuring social and emotional wellbeing directly, but these aspects can be indirectly measured by observing behavioral patterns that could reflect such negative effects.
Instances of lessened social/emotional wellbeing can manifest in an academic setting as a variety of traditionally unacceptable behaviors, including excessive absence/tardiness, unregulated emotional outbursts, and general antisocial behavior (Manfra, 2019). As is too often the case, school staff tend to be less educated - often through no fault of their own, to be clear - on how to effectively understand and support students working through traumas linked to homelessness. Without that base of knowledge, school systems rely on more traditional, overly-punitive discipline to enforce rules and standards -- further alienating homeless students and contributing to lower social and emotional welfare (Chow et al., 2015).
With all this in mind, there are a few clear, concrete steps that must be taken in order to lessen the impact that homelessness has on a child’s academic success. As mentioned previously, there needs to be a more intentful and cohesive effort by schools and educators around the country to learn how to effectively support students that are facing homelessness. This learning process is multi-faceted and must include strong consideration for changes in discipline policy, increased sensibility and awareness towards students with atypical socialization and emotional regulation. In addition, more work must be done to ensure educators have strong foundational knowledge of the existing support systems for families facing homelessness (Havlik et al., 2014). Taken as a whole, processes like these will allow educators to best provide for students that face the countless pressures and stressors of homelessness.
National Center for Homeless Education | (800) 308-2145
Greater Chicago Food Depository | (773) 247-3663
Chicago Public Schools | (773) 553-1000
Chow, K. A., Mistry, R. S., & Melchor, V. L. (2015). Homelessness in the elementary school classroom: Social and emotional consequences. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 28(6), 641–662. https://doi.org/10.1080/09518398.2015.1017855
Fanjiang, G., & Kleinman, R. E. (2007). Nutrition and performance in children. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care, 10(3), 342–347. https://doi.org/10.1097/MCO.0b013e3280523a9e
Hart-Shegos, E. (1999). Homelessness and Its Ef ects on Children. Family Housing Fund, Midwest Plaza West, Suite 1650, 801 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis, MN 55402. https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED453321
Havlik, S. A., Brady, J., & Gavin, K. (2014). Exploring the Needs of Students Experiencing Homelessness from School Counselors’ Perspectives. Journal of School Counseling, 12(20). https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ1034769
Lafavor, T. (2018). Predictors of Academic Success in 9- to 11-Year-Old Homeless Children: The Role of Executive Function, Social Competence, and Emotional Control. The Journal of Early Adolescence, 38(9), 1236–1264. https://doi.org/10.1177/0272431616678989
Manfra, L. (2019). Impact of Homelessness on School Readiness Skills and Early Academic Achievement: A Systematic Review of the Literature. Early Childhood Education Journal, 47(2), 239 249. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10643-018-0918-6
By: Elizabeth Chun, Site Coordinator
It’s been about 200 years since free compulsory education was created in the United States. While some things look quite different in American education, others do not. It is not always necessary to update the way things are done just because time is passing, however a closer look into the roots of education in the United States reveals that it was not created for many of the people that now receive it.
At its beginning, education in the United States was created to teach citizens how to become “good, productive members of their society” (A Brief History, 2016). Formal education was not created for the benefits of students, but rather was built by those in power for the benefit of those in power (A Brief History, 2016). In colonial times, only the wealthiest boys went to school (A Brief History, 2016). Eventually, textbooks were created in order to unify the nation in reaction to the Revolutionary War which began in 1775 (A Brief History, 2016). While the textbooks standardized pronunciation and spelling, they also were meant to “instill patriotism and religious beliefs in students” and included inaccurate stereotypes of Native Americans and certain immigrant groups (A Brief History, 2016). It was not until over 100 years later in the late 1800s that free compulsory education was developed allowing additional kids to go to school, though still not all kids, and a major purpose of this free compulsory education was to “prevent immigrants’ values from corrupting ‘American’ values” (A Brief History, 2016).
Fast forwarding to today, the American education system struggles to close the achievement gap that stands between the students the early education system valued and those it did not. Research proves that schools, overall, do an inadequate job of providing equal learning opportunities for all students and instead benefit white students to a greater extent (Flores, 2018). If educators “are not proactive about mitigating racial exclusion in social networks, curriculum, pedagogy, course participation and extracurricular activities,” this gap “will continue to permeate schools” (Flores, 2018).
There are many remedies educators can use to increase equity for their students in order to override the colonized past of American education. Using teaching strategies of decolonized pedagogies has the potential to create a large impact towards decreasing the present inequities. The pedagogies of bell hooks, Paulo Freire and the Raza Womyn de UCLA all lend themselves well to this. Though it should be noted that the following teaching strategies cannot be separated from the beliefs and worldviews of the people who created them. Moreover, understanding the overarching purpose of each pedagogy is vital for impactful implementation.
The pedagogy of bell hooks (2013) works to undo the way “white-supremacist thinking informs every aspect of our culture,” she writes. This includes “the way we learn, the content of what we learn, and the manner in which we are taught” (hooks, 2013, p. 25). To combat this, hooks suggests educators encourage and emphasize the process of learning for their students, the inquiry and questioning that comes with learning, and the feeling of uncertainty that comes with not knowing something (hooks, 2013). Focused on avoiding a learning environment in which students become “indoctrinated” with any type of ideology, hooks believes educators should work towards helping students learn to open their minds and think critically (hooks, 2013).
Brazilian educator Paulo Friere developed his pedagogy in order to seek “ways to offer an education to impoverished and illiterate adult students in his country that would help them improve their situation and thus transform their lives and the society in which they lived” (Wright, 2019). His teaching strategies aim to transform power dynamics present in education in order to liberate students from oppression (Wright, 2019). To do so, he recommends teachers explore new knowledge and open themselves to new ways of seeing the world. In addition, Friere believes teachers should avoid teaching in a way that merely “passes” information from teacher to student. Rather, teachers should create an environment in which teachers and students are both seen as learners who, together, engage in dialogue and collaboration.
The last pedagogy included here is the Mujerista Pedagogy used by the Raza Womyn de UCLA. Created in reaction to experiencing alienation and discrimination as Chicana and Latina students at their university, the pedagogy aims to destroy “the many ‘isms,’ such as sexism, racism, homophobia, and classism that attempt to dismantle [their] communities” (Revilla, 2014). Their pedagogy developed out of student group meetings, but quite naturally works for classrooms or other learning environments. The Mujerista Pedagogy includes beginning each meeting with time to “catch up” and freely talk (Revilla, 2014). Then, there is an “opening ‘icebreaker’” for the members to answer that ranges from funny to serious, changing by the day (Revilla, 2014). Additionally, the members sit in a circle for the whole meeting (Revilla, 2014). At the end, talking circles close the meetings (Revilla, 2014). Similar to how they started, this creates a second opportunity to share how they are feeling or something about their lives (Revilla, 2014). While talking circles seem like an easy aspect of the pedagogy to eliminate when things get busy, consistent inclusion of this practice prioritizes community and is said to be “the single most unifying strategy that Raza Womyn use to maintain a ‘safe space’” (Revilla, 2014).
The inequitable structures in education may not be going away as fast as we’d like due to their historical entwinement with colonization and exclusionary beginnings. However, educators can control their learning environment and the dynamics and practices that take place within them. With each individual teaching strategy comes an opportunity to create a learning environment that is increasingly inclusive of the students the early American education system tried to keep out.
[Author removed at request of original publisher]. (2016, April 08). 16.1 a brief history of
education in the United States. Retrieved March 21, 2022, from
Flores. (2018). (Re)constructing the Language of the Achievement Gap to an Opportunity Gap:
The Counternarratives of Three African American Women School Leaders. Journal of
School Leadership, 28(3), 344–373. https://doi.org/10.1177/105268461802800304
hooks, b. (2013). Teaching community: A pedagogy of hope. Hoboken: Taylor and Francis.
Revilla, A. T. (2004). Muxerista pedagogy: Raza Womyn Teaching Social Justice Through
Student activism. The High School Journal, 87(4), 80–94.
Wright, W. E. (2019). Foundations for teaching English Language Learners: Research, theory,
policy, and practice (3rd ed.). Caslon.
The Most Important Meal of The Day: Implementation of Free-Breakfast Programs in School
By: Jake Schwartz, AmeriCorps VISTA Member
For many students, breakfast is typically an afterthought due to either how busy the average student is or the typical morning rush. Regardless of the reason, it seems that breakfast is seen as more of a burden instead of an important part of the day. For many other students however, breakfast plays a much more important role in their daily lives. Due to socioeconomic barriers, many students often go to school hungry, due to not having access to reliable food sources and, as a result, often have to skip breakfast entirely. The scope of this issue is well-known in this country, evidenced by the existence of a USDA initiative known as the School Breakfast Program that aims to combat this issue by working with schools to institute free breakfast programs. While this program is beneficial, and exists in around 78,000 schools serving 7.8 million children per day (USDA, 2019), there is still more that can be done for school children. Due to the effects that malnutrition can have on a student’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being - especially during the formative years for neurological development - free breakfast programs that are open to any and all students should be implemented in every primary and secondary school in the United States.
To better understand how free breakfast programs can help children in school, it is important to review the effects that poor nutrition can have on a developing student. General malnutrition has been linked to deficiencies in vitamin B12, thiamin, niacin, zinc, and iron - all of which are micronutrients that greatly influence cognitive function (Fanjiang and Kleinman, 2007). Students who are forced to skip breakfast are more likely to be lacking in some or all of these essential nutrients, and the results of these deficiencies are clear: children with defined food insufficiency between the ages of 6 and 11 years old consistently had lower arithmetic abilities and were more likely to repeat grades (Alaimo, 2001). These results are seen in older adolescence as well, with food-secure participants from 13 - 20 years of age consistently scoring higher on tests of attention, concentration, and verbal/spatial memory than their food-insecure classmates (Widenhorn-Muller, 2008). In addition to cognitive function, malnutrition also has wide-ranging effects on the mental health of students. Students with food insecurity display antisocial behavior at far higher rates than their well-fed counterparts (Alaimo, 2001) and tend to develop anxiety and depression at similarly higher rates compared to average students (Basch, 2011). The combination of these cognitive and mental/emotional effects manifest in many ways, including increased referrals to psychologists, higher instances of tardiness and truancy, and higher cases of disciplinary actions (detentions, suspensions, etc.) reported in food-insecure students (Basch, 2011). From a biological standpoint, when children are deprived of nutrition as a result of skipping breakfast, they are immediately and immensely hindered in their ability to perform well in a school setting relative to their peers.
As mentioned earlier, free breakfast programs are currently being implemented across the United States. In order to better understand why these programs are essential to the opportunities for students to succeed, the impacts of the program as it currently exists needs to be evaluated. Since its inception in 1966 and its permanent status since 1975, the USDA School Breakfast Program has served millions of children across thousands of schools (USDA, 2019). The effects of this program have been measured in a variety of ways, and the overall consensus is a cause for celebration: the implementation of the School Breakfast Program - referred to as “SBP” from here on - resulted in higher nutrient intake among inner-city students (Kleinman et al., 2002). SBP implementation also contributed to lower rates of tardiness and truancy in participating schools (Cook et al., 1996) as well as improved scores on standardized testing (Meyers et al, 1989) compared to the student population prior to the inclusion of SBP. Finally, schools with SBP saw lower rates of depression, anxiety, and behavioral issues among participating students (Basch, 2011).
While the SBP has shown promise in its implementation so far, and the underlying biology strengthens the argument for its importance, there is still more that can be done to ensure that all students have the opportunity to succeed in a school setting. Current guidelines allow for students at SBP-participating schools to purchase breakfast through their school. Financial assistance is built into the SBP, where students in families that make at or below 130% of the federal poverty level receive free meals, families between 130 - 185% are eligible for reduced-price meals, and families at 185% and above pay full price (USDA, 2019). Considering that the federal poverty level is between $21,330 and $34,590 for families of three and six, respectively (Amadeo, 2019), the cutoffs for the ability to receive free breakfast exist at an income that still may not be comfortable for families to be able to participate in the program. Due to the importance of proper nutrition on a student’s ability to succeed academically, socially, and emotionally, the SBP should (1) be implemented universally across every primary and secondary school in the United States and (2) should be subsidized by the federal government so that participation in the SBP is completely free to all students who wish to take part in the program. Making those adjustments to the current program will help further support future generations of students in numerous crucial ways without causing any extra financial strain on the families and the students affected by food insecurity - empowering students to be the best that they can be.
Greater Chicago Food Depository | (773) 247-3663
Chicago Public Schools | (773) 553-1000
USDA Food & Nutrition Services | (312) 353-1044
Alaimo, K., Olson, C. M., & Frongillo, E. A. (2001, July 1). Food Insufficiency and
American School-Aged Children's Cognitive, Academic, and Psychosocial
Development. Retrieved from
Amadeo, K. (2019, November 16). Are You Eligible for Federal Benefits in 2019?
Retrieved from https://www.thebalance.com/federal-poverty-level-definition-
Basch, C. E. (2011). Breakfast and the Achievement Gap Among Urban Minority Youth.
Journal of School Health, 81(10), 635–640. doi: 10.1111/j.1746-1561.2011.00638.x
Cook, T.|Ohri-Vachaspati, J., Punam|Kelly, & Leitch, G. (1995, December 31). Evaluation
of a Universally-Free School Breakfast Program Demonstration Project: Central Falls,
Rhode Island. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED432375.
Fanjiang, G., & Kleinman, R. E. (2007). Nutrition and performance in children. Current
Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care, 10(3), 342–347. doi:
Meyers, A. F. (1989). School Breakfast Program and School Performance. Archives of
Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, 143(10), 1234. doi:
Pollitt, E. (1995). Does Breakfast Make a Difference in School? Journal of the American
Dietetic Association, 95(10), 1134–1139. doi: 10.1016/s0002-8223(95)00306-1
School Breakfast Program (SBP) Fact Sheet. (n.d.). Retrieved from
Widenhorn-Muller, K., Hille, K., Klenk, J., & Weiland, U. (2008). Influence of Having
Breakfast on Cognitive Performance and Mood in 13- to 20-Year-Old High School
Students: Results of a Crossover Trial. Pediatrics, 122(2), 279–284. doi:
By: Stephanie Salgado, AmeriCorps State & National Member
Chicago's public image is that of a powerhouse in the global economy, with explosive food, culture, and captivating skyscrapers. However, much like other mega-cities, this ideal characterization of Chicago fails to capture the lives of over 58,000 Chicagoans experiencing homelessness as of 2019. For many, there are no other options but to stay at a shelter or double up in someone else’s residence. Others are pushed to the city streets, forced to camp out and sleep on the hard concrete, smothered by the polluted smoke left by passerby cars. On top of having difficult access to housing, the challenges that people experiencing homelessness face worsen their overall health. While the experience of homelessness varies across individuals, one of the modern driving forces of homelessness is tied to gentrification.
In the history of settlement in Chicago gentrification, the incoming of wealthy residents and the introduction of neighborhood renovation into low-income communities have disrupted and displaced many of its own community members. This shift can be explained by a number of factors. New job opportunities are offered in these gentrified areas by high-paying professional jobs, which may require individuals to move in order to network and advance their careers. Low crime rates brought on by investment in the community can bring ease to some families who are looking to relocate to a safer neighborhood. Amenities like hip restaurants, theaters, transit, and other unique establishments attract people of higher socioeconomic status. These factors create an influx of affluent residents into low-income communities, consequently raising the cost of housing. The price of units increases and are no longer affordable to long-term residents, pushing them out of their neighborhoods and, often enough, into homelessness and rampant poverty. Gentrification further perpetuates the worsening racial and economic segregation present in Chicago’s communities. Terms such as North Side, West Side, and South Side encompass subtle meanings that relate to the division of Chicago. These terms are characterized by their descriptions of neighborhoods that vary from affluent White Chicagoans, North Side, to impoverished predominantly people of color, West Side and South Side.
This narrative remains true for Chicago’s very own Pilsen neighborhood on the Lower West Side, with its rich history, culture, community, and families. Long-term Pilsen resident, Lucy Gutierrez, has steadily witnessed the loss of her very own community members as the price of housing forced her neighbors to sell their homes. This wave of gentrification replaced small family-owned businesses with new trendy restaurants and luxury developments. Existing residents are prevented from benefiting from the economic growth as they become unemployed and suffer from the dramatic increase in housing prices. Furthermore, as the population of minorities continues to decline, and are replaced by wealthy white incomers, this makes way for culture displacement. As there is less appreciation of the art, language, and history ingrained in the neighborhood, its residents endure a loss of social and personal identity.
To combat the effects of gentrification in Pilsen, local residents came together to form The Resurrection Project in 1990. Their work includes finding affordable housing and quality education for its community members. The Resurrection Project has around 800 affordable units in Chicago’s West and South Side neighborhoods, as well as five housing projects. Raul Raymundo, CEO of the Resurrection Project, expressed that the Resurrection Project “‘is part of a bigger effort to further create balanced development,’” and “‘[a]s [they] welcome newcomers, [they] want families from the neighborhood to benefit from the prosperity of the neighborhood.’”
However, Pilsen is not the only neighborhood in Chicago that has experienced a stark transformation brought upon by gentrification. Humboldt Park, located on Chicago’s West side, has seen a tremendous spike in the cost of living. In 2020, DePaul University conducted a study looking at trends in the cost of living near the 606, which includes Wicker Park, Bucktown, Humboldt Park, and Logan Square. This study found that from 2012 to 2022, the price for one-to-four unit buildings dramatically increased by 344 percent. Patricia Prado, another community member, shares that she lived in Humboldt Park for twenty-two years, until 2019 when she and her family had to relocate due to the increase in property taxes. “‘I didn’t have the financial means to do what I needed to do so because the area was so hot and gentrification was still going on, people want the land,’” Patricia expressed. “‘They didn’t care about my house. It’s all about location.’” Gentrification continues to adversely affect people like Patricia Prado and Lucy Gutierrez - those with the least voice and power in society.
Housing goes beyond having a roof over your head. Health outcomes and individual well-being are not only influenced by biological factors but also by housing, food access, and education. Individuals that endure long-term homelessness are put at a higher risk for chronic conditions, substance abuse, mental illness, and other large problems. As homelessness is a life-altering experience, it is common for people who are experiencing homelessness to be exposed to trauma or relive past trauma as a result. As mainly working-class minorities who are at a higher risk of becoming homeless are continually met with excessive heights in the cost of living, it is important to consider the loss of identity, opportunities, and culture that quickly follows.
The Resurrection Project | (312) 666-1323
Logan Square Association Neighborhood | (773) 384-4370
The Chicago Urban League | (773) 285-5800
Latino Policy Reform | (312) 376-1766
... (n.d.). Gentrification Near the 606: Logan Square, Humboldt Park. Retrieved from http://redlineproject.org/humboldt_gentrification.php
Daniels, C. M. (2021, September 19). 'No family left behind' - Pilsen's latest affordable housing project takes stand against gentrification. Retrieved from https://chicago.suntimes.com/2021/9/16/22678124/pilsen-affordable-housing-resurrection-project-casa-durango-racine-ashland-gentrification
FAQs/Studies. (2021, September 08). Retrieved from https://www.chicagohomeless.org/faq-studies/
Institute for Housing Studies - DePaul University. (n.d.). Displacement Pressure in Context: Examining Recent Housing Market Changes Near The 606. Retrieved from https://www.housingstudies.org/releases/Displacement-Pressure-in-Context-606/?utm_source=Institute+for+Housing+Studies+Updates+and+News
Kang, E. Y. (2022, March 18). New census data confirms the continuation of Chicago neighborhoods' gentrification. Retrieved from https://www.wbez.org/stories/census-data-shows-continuing-gentrification-in-chicago/c1663c00-c3a2-41c4-845a-a76b717d8499
Meltzer, R., & Ghorbani, P. (2017, June 15). Does gentrification increase employment opportunities in low-income neighborhoods? Retrieved from http://sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0166046217302193#:~:text=Employment effects from gentrification are very localized.&text=In gentrifying neighborhoods, incumbent residents lose jobs while total jobs increase.&text=Local jobs decline in service,producing and lower wage positions.&text=Incumbent residents also gain goods,wage jobs a farther distances.
Puente, T., & Writer, T. S. (2021, August 11). PILSEN FEARS UPSCALE PUSH MAY SHOVE MANY OUT. Retrieved from https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-1997-11-04-9711040475-story.html
Stephanie. (2020, November 10). Chicago's Homeless Population Was Already On The Rise Before The Pandemic. Now, City Scrambles To Plan For Next Wave. Retrieved from https://blockclubchicago.org/2020/11/10/chicagos-homeless-population-was-already-on-the-rise-before-the-pandemic-now-city-scrambles-to-plan-for-next-wave/
Bullying and homelessness
Bullying is an epidemic. Millions of Americans are subjected to bullying every day whether it be at home, online, in school, or on the streets. Victims of bullying vary in age, but it’s kids that seem to struggle most with it. Teenage depression and suicide rates are at an all time high. Even as schools continue to implement stricter anti-bullying rules, the hatred, teasing, and abuse persists. Many students who have experienced bullying feel like they are alone despite countless resources that are supposed to support them.
No child should ever experience bullying–it can be debilitating, dehumanizing, and even the slightest sense of social pressure can be paralyzing. Thankfully, discussions surrounding mental health and bullying are continuing to be destigmatized, and there are more safe spaces for students who are suffering to turn to. But what about students whose family lives are completely unstable? What about kids who don’t know where their next meal will come from? What about children who have no place to call home?
According to the National Conference of State Legislators, 4.2 million children and young adults are currently homeless, with nearly 700,000 of them being unaccompanied transient minors. (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2008; HRSA, 2001). Many of these children have very limited, if any, access to health care, and many lack adult figures that they feel comfortable confiding in. On average, 42% of homeless students report being bullied compared to 23% percent of housed peers, and suicide rates amounst humless children are nearly 3 times higher than those who are housed (The Institute for Children, Poverty, and Homelessness). Studies have found that children who have left home due to abuse are at a frighteningly high risk of revictimization at school, which in effect leads to a higher risk of suffering from mental illness.
Homeless youth are disproportionately subjected to bullying at school and on the streets, yet it is nearly impossible for them to seek help for the damage that bullying causes. Many states allocate zero tax revenue to mental health services for the homeless, and schools alone are not capable of solving the bullying crisis. Until something is done to protect these highly vulnerable kids from bullying, mental illness amongst homeless youth will continue to rise.