How to better support students in public housing

Housing providers can work with community groups to support K-12 students' needs
By: | January 24, 2020
Students who live in public housing are likely in greater need of internet access. books, eyeglasses, nutritious meals, and other essentials, new research has found.(Photo: Alejandro Barba/Unsplash)

Children living in affordable public housing show higher rates of learning disabilities, ADHD, developmental delays and emotional disturbances, a new report by the Public and Affordable Housing Research Corporation.

Yet, public housing is linked to fewer school absences, better healthcare access, and greater parental involvement in school for children, compared to low-income students who don’t receiving housing assistance. The corporation, which is the research arm of a public housing insurance company, urged housing providers to work with other community organizations to better support children’s educational and emotional needs and also help parents get connected to schools.

“Access to the internet and books, enrichment activities, learning supports such as eyeglasses and nutritious meals, and programs tailored to children who have learning disabilities or special needs can help assisted children overcome some of the obstacles they face,” said Keely Stater, director of research and industry intelligence and the study’s lead author.

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A nonprofit, Directing through Recreation, Education, Adventure, and Mentoring, or DREAM, creates mentoring relationships between college students in the Northeast with low-income students in public housing, according to the student newspaper at Tufts University near Boston.

The university has two chapters of the organization, which provide tutoring to K-12 students, among other services, The Tufts Daily reported. “It can be very empowering to have a positive adult in a child’s life and have someone to pursue their interests.” Zoe Leaf, the chair of one of the chapters, told The Tufts Daily. 

Trauma-informed practices can guide teachers in making students more resilient in overcoming housing challenges and other difficulties, according to The National Child Traumatic Stress Network. Teachers, for instance, should help students them find their talents and give them more choice over assignments and activities during the school day, the Network recommends.

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Educators at San Jose USD in California have been training in trauma-informed instruction since 2017. “Now we’re not simply just saying, ‘We’re going to recognize [students] for being good,’” Dane Caldwell-Holden, San Jose’s director of student services, told District Administration. “We’re going to say, ‘When things don’t go well for you, we have interventions that are going to try to support you that so they don’t have to happen again.”

And when it comes to homelessness, teachers need ongoing professional development to identify and support students experiencing unstable housing, District Administration reported last year.

“Teachers have their eyes and ears on students for the majority of the day, so they’re in a position to notice who changes their behavior or falls asleep or is talking about moving around—things that might trigger a deeper conversation,” Barbara Duffield, executive director of SchoolHouse Connection, a nonprofit dedicated to overcoming homelessness through education, told DA.

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