October 7, 2014

40 percent of Watford elementary students considered “homeless”

By Amy Robinson
Farmer Staff Writer

As Watford City Elementary School’s enrollment is swelling, one trend that has school administrators concerned, is the number of students who are considered “homeless.” According to Steve Holen, district superintendent, 40 percent of the elementary school’s 700+ students fall into that category.
To fall into the “homeless” category, one of these specific homeless provisions has to be met under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Act: lack of fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence and/or shared housing (due to loss or hardship).
In the beginning of this 2014-15 school year, a housing survey was sent home with each student to voluntarily be filled out by the parent or guardian. Of the surveys filled out and returned to the school, 268 of the 700+ enrolled students at the elementary school qualified as ‘homeless,’ having met one or both of those provisions.
107 students met that criteria from the high school. That means a total of 375 students, whose parent or guardian voluntarily filled out the survey, from both the elementary and high schools, are considered ‘homeless.’ The total number last year was 254 students, and this year it has significantly increased to 375 students.
That equates to a little over 40 percent of the elementary school students and roughly 29 percent of the high school students this year, that qualify for the federal grant that provides 100 percent-free hot breakfast and lunch to each of those qualifying students for the entirety of the school year.
“These numbers are reflective of our community right now and our desperate need of permanent housing in Watford City,” said Holen. “Watford City is getting there, but it’s slow. There’s a lot of housing coming, but the challenge is getting the infrastructure here and sooner.”
Last year was the first year Watford City Elementary School broke the 40 percent mark, allowing for this grant and additional funding/program opportunities.
One of these additional funding opportunities was the school now being eligible to be a Title 1 School, not just a ‘Targeted’ Title 1 School.
“Because we broke that 40 percent, we are now able to qualify for a Title 1 School, not just a ‘Targeted’ Title 1 School, which allows the funding and resources throughout the entire school, not just to those who qualify,” said Brad Foss, Watford City Elementary School principal. “Instead of having Title 1 teachers, everyone is now a Title 1 teacher. This will force us to focus on the education of everyone.”
There is a year of planning involved with the Title 1 funding. Once the planning year is complete, the actual funding and resources will break out next school year.
An ‘After-School’ grant will also be coming in the future, as the school now qualifies for that additional program as well. So, even though having a large ‘homeless’ statistic within our schools is not necessarily a positive reality in Watford City, some benefits are and will be coming as a result of it. And once the programs are in place and established, they will stay. They won’t go away even if numbers start going back down at some point in time.
As the community becomes more conscientious of the homeless issue, we now have a homeless liaison, Watford City Elementary School Assistant Principal Kerri Stansfield. She comes from California with extensive experience working with the homeless population there. Now that this liaison position is in place in Watford City, hopefully the community collectively can start to bridge this gap.
Until then, some of these new programs and grants are here to help these staggering percentages with funding, resources, and hot breakfasts and lunches for these students.