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SERVING HOMELESS STUDENTS: Massachusetts Elementary School Educates Unique Student Population

"We have no idea what we'll do when July 1 rolls around. Like everyone else we're waiting to see what the governor's final budget looks like, and praying for a miracle."

A recent article in the Boston Globe told the story of Salisbury Elementary School’s dedication to serving a large population of homeless students and its efforts to meet the unique challenges these students pose. Over the years, Salisbury Elementary School has worked closely with the Pettengill House, the only service agency in the area, to identify and serve homeless students. In fact, Deborah Smith, the executive director of the Pettengill House, maintains an office inside the school on Tuesdays.

While the school has been very helpful to students and their families, it and the Pettengill House are feeling the effects of state budget cuts. According to the Globe, the Pettengill House’s funding was cut last June, and if not for more than $200,000 in donations from the community, the agency would have closed a year ago.

Today, Smith says that she has enough money to keep the agency open until June 30, but the future is uncertain: “We have no idea what we’ll do when July 1 rolls around. Like everyone else we’re waiting to see what the governor’s final budget looks like, and praying for a miracle.”

Meanwhile, the school is facing its share of pressures. According to the school’s principal, Christine Kneeland, one to three students leave or enter the school every week. “Some kids come in with a parent, others get dropped off in a cab,” she says. “Because of the stresses they have at home, many of the children who come to us need counseling.” The caseload is so heavy that the school’s guidance counselor depends on four or five private counselors who come from outside agencies.

The Education for Homeless Children and Youth program within the U.S. Department of Education provides funding to schools to facilitate the enrollment of homeless students and to provide tutoring, transportation, and other services that help these students succeed in school. For fiscal 2003, Congress appropriated $54.6 million for this program. The President’s budget for fiscal 2004 requests $50 million.

“We can’t always fix what’s wrong at home,” says Carla Collins, the school district’s special programs coordinator. “And frankly, that’s not our job. Our job is to teach them, because if we teach them we give them the key. Education is the key to stopping the cycle.”

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