Social workers in Alexandria City Public Schools are tasked with helping students and families overcome a wide range of barriers to education, from family crises and child abuse to truancy and mental health issues. Every ACPS elementary and middle school has at least one full-time social worker. At T.C. Williams, among their other duties, a team of social workers also works diligently to give students the support that they need to graduate on-time.
One of the lesser-known functions of our school social workers is to provide services to students who are covered by the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act—a federal law which ensures that students experiencing homelessness are enrolled immediately in school even if they do not have the proper documentation. The law also requires each school division to have a designated homeless education liaison. About 200 ACPS students, or roughly 1.5% of the division-wide total enrollment, experience one or more types of homelessness at some point during the school year: residing at a homeless shelter; living on the street; staying in a hotel or motel; or doubling up with other family members.
Arnecia Moody, lead social worker and homeless education liaison for ACPS, works closely with other city agencies to identify families who have been evicted. She connects families with community resources, enrolls their children in school, arranges school transportation, signs the students up for free school meals, develops a plan for addressing the students’ social and emotional needs, sets up tutoring for academic support and coordinates with principals and teachers.
It’s common for students experiencing homelessness to move frequently within and among school divisions, and the McKinney-Vento law allows a student to continue to attend his or her school of origin prior to becoming homeless. It is ACPS’ responsibility to provide transportation to the student, possibly in the form of bus tokens or cab fare if outside of the city of Alexandria. When possible, school buses pick up students in the city’s two homeless shelters at the beginning or the end of the bus route to protect the students’ identities.
Moody says that it’s important for families to know that these services are available to them. “Parents are often afraid to ask,” she says, “or they think that they don’t qualify.” A period of homelessness typically lasts a few years, adds Moody, because after an eviction, it takes a while for parents to improve their credit rating before they can sign another lease.
In addition to the services required by law, ACPS holds parent workshops at Carpenter’s Shelter. Recently, using federal grant funds under the McKinney-Vento law, ACPS installed computers for students to use at both Carpenter’s Shelter and the Alexandria Community Shelter.
But the high point of the year for Moody is coming up on June 10, when she and her colleagues will make it possible for a senior at T.C. Williams to attend the prom. “We rent the tux or buy the dress, and give them gift cards to purchase dinner. I drive them there and get their curfew extended.” It’s one of many ways that ACPS social workers ensure that students experiencing homelessness are able to participate in high school traditions that all of the other students enjoy.
For an interesting look at how one school district helps students and families who are experiencing homelessness, watch this recent segment from the PBS NewsHour.
There are four more Family Fun Nights at Chinquapin Aquatics and Recreation Center before the end of the school year:
May 6: Lyles Crouch Elementary
May 20: James K Polk Elementary
June 3: Hammond Middle School – 8th grade
June 10: Cora Kelly Elementary
All families are welcome even if your school is not the one in the spotlight. Admission is $4 per person. These events are co-sponsored by the Alexandria Parks & Recreation Department and Advocates for Alexandria Aquatics.
Summer music opportunity
Band, orchestra and harp students who are ages 11 to 15 are invited to enroll in the 2016 NOVA Summer Music Camp which will be held July 11 to 15 on the campus of Northern Virginia Community College.