At a time when children and adults draft Christmas lists of wishes and wants, I asked Sherida Stroman what she wanted for Christmas. I’d venture to say her list does not resemble any list most have seen.
1. Affordable housing for the homeless.
2. More temporary shelters for children.
3. More food distribution initiatives for the hungry.
If I didn’t pen another word, Stroman’s list already puts things in perspective for those who may get lost in the commercialization of Christmas.
As the Aiken County School District McKinney Vento Homeless Liaison, Stroman’s daily challenge is to ensure protection of educational rights for the district’s more than 300 homeless students.
Thanks to the federal McKinney Vento Homeless Assistance Act, signed into law in 1987 and reauthorized in 2002, displaced and unaccompanied children all over this country are afforded opportunities to continue their education by the removal of barriers that tend to exist because of these unfortunate circumstances.
Every state is mandated to have a liaison to coordinate with school principals, student service workers, other school district personnel and community resources to meet the individual needs of every child enrolled in the program.
In the land of the free and home of the brave, it’s regrettable to fathom more than 1.35 million children experience homelessness.
More than 40 percent of all children who are homeless are under the age of five. Furthermore, 10 percent of all children living in poverty experience homelessness, according to the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth. As devastating as these conditions are, none should interfere with a child’s right to a quality education.
Through the McKinney Vento Homeless Assistance Act, student service workers strive to ensure homelessness is not a barrier to students enrolling, attending and participating in school. Some students require special educational services, while others need the basics such as food, clothing, temporary living accommodations, transportation to school, after school programs, tutoring, etc.
While some children and parents stand in line for hours to purchase the latest technological gadget at Christmas time, others are merely grateful to secure a warm bed for some period of consistency without the worry of being asked to leave the next morning.
All they want for Christmas is stability, a simple request that often seems unattainable.
Consider the proven causes of homelessness: lack of affordable housing, poverty, health problems, domestic violence, natural and other disasters, abuse, neglect and abandonment.
It’s amazing what it takes for some children to just make it to school. School, to these students, means safety. Their classmates and teachers become their family. School is usually a place void of mental and physical abuse. It’s a place to receive meals and quite often a friendly smile. How ironic it is that the same place that serves as a safe haven to many is often taken for granted by those who throw away their education.
This column is not written to ensue feelings of guilt for one’s present state of blessings, good fortune, and wealth. It’s my feeble attempt to shed light on a growing problem that exists in Aiken County and all districts across this country. Homelessness is not a state of mind for those who find themselves in dire circumstances. Quite the contrary. These students and adults are some of the most resilient and appreciative people alive. They refuse to give up although they have every reason to do so.
To those who fight against public school funding and the necessity to fund federal, state and local programs that your home may not need, I say please remember those whose Christmas lists aren’t adorned with things that break, wear out or get lost. Instead, think about those families whose only wish is stability and a place to call their own. Think and pray for those who have fallen on hard times by no fault of their own. Think about the 20 to 50 percent of unaccompanied youth who were sexually abused in their homes and had to be removed. Despite common sentiment, they did not voluntarily choose this lifestyle to warrant ridicule and heartless scorn.
Let’s all come together and work toward granting Stroman’s wishes. Maybe you can donate food, clothing, provide temporary shelter for a child or family or pray for those less fortunate.
If your heart is moved to help Aiken County’s homeless students, contact the Office of Federal Programs, 641-2428, or anyone in your school district charged with coordinating the McKinney Vento Homeless Education Program. Merry Christmas.
Donna Moore Wesby is host of “Education Matters” on ASTV Channel 95 and WAAW Shout 94.7 FM radio. She is also a former member of the Aiken County Board of Education. Visit www.edmatt.com for more information.
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