Addressing homelessness

Seaside’s Shelby Treick, Travis Cave and Jason Boyd, with Craig Hoppes, Astoria school superintendent.

The Seaside School District was among the volunteers, businesses and nonprofits at Project Homeless Connect on Tuesday, Jan. 28, at the Seaside Civic and Convention Center. Seaside High School assistant principal Jason Boyd and staff from the school district participated in outreach to the county’s homeless population, particularly families with school-age children. We spoke with Boyd about the district’s goals and mission.

Q: What role is the school district playing here today?

Boyd: We’re working with all the schools in Clatsop County trying to work with the state of Oregon. We have to create a community improvement plan every year to show what we’re doing to reach out especially to the underserved portions of the population. How we can best help the population that is here today is our goal.

Q: How is homelessness defined by the district?

Boyd: Homeless as defined through the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, a federal program. It’s called Title X.

Q: Do you keep track of homeless students?

Boyd: In our district we have roughly 72.

Q: Out of how many?

Boyd: Seventy-two out of 1,600 in the district.

Q: That seems high!

Boyd: That’s very high. And those are kids that we know of.

We have students that range from living in a car to couch-surfing, living with a family for a few weeks. Then something happens and they go to another family, and live with them for awhile, then another family. I worked with a student who had been with 14 different schools before their first year in high school.

Q: How do you work with other agencies to meet the needs of homeless students?

Boyd: Being here today is hopefully helping us to make some connections with some folks to see what barriers we can help remove.

Our big thing is working with other school districts. How can we best serve this population, our homeless population? How can we best help them so that those kids can access the best education on a regular basis.

Q: How do homeless kids cope with all the challenges?

Boyd: High school is hard enough, but trying to do high school and figuring out where your next meal is going to come from makes it really difficult. Homeless kids lose some of the opportunities we want kids to have.

It’s really hard for (homeless) students to see a path to graduation. “Do I have the stamina to deal with the roadblocks and the frustrations that are going to be in my way to get to that goal?”

Q: Can you point to success stories?

Boyd: We had a student living classified as homeless, mom not in the picture, dad not in the picture. As a freshman and sophomore, that particular student was a real struggle to deal with in the regular setting. He didn’t like rules. (He thought) every adult was out to get him. Through working and trying to create a relationship, he turned it around. He graduated high school. He went to community college and graduated, and went on to go to an optometry school.

Q: Success is within the reach of anyone.

Boyd: It is. It’s just how we can remove the barriers so they can see it too. Every human at some point figures out,“I don’t want this anymore now I’m focused on getting there.” We usually equate that with passion. How do we get the kids to find their passion so they’ll go and work extra hard to do that? We can get to those points if we can remove some of the barriers that are there. And sometimes they’re perceived barriers.

Q: What role do parents play?

Boyd: (As a parent) your memories of school might be really negative. If you only know school was not successful for you, it’s hard to take your child and really support him on a path. It takes a lot of thinking about it as a parent to create that opportunity to support your child with what they need to go through.

Q: At what point does the district intervene?

Boyd: A lot of that comes has to do with that transition eighth grade to freshman year. 

Part of the district’s strategic plan is improving graduation rates. The University of Chicago has done a big study over the years. And the one thing that they found, among data that really works, if freshmen kids are on track to graduate at the end of their freshman year, they’re exponentially more likely to graduate. You’ve got to have academic success that freshman year. Really building with our population to make that freshman year academically focused. That’s a very critical period.

We’ll do a home visit before school even starts. Just an introduction, “Hey, I’m Jason, if you need me for anything, just give a call.”

Q: What about student cliques and how kids interact with each other?

Boyd: We definitely have that demographic: kids driving brand-new cars to school, and then we have kids who have been wearing the same jeans and hoodie sweatshirts for the past month.

Q: How do you bring those kids together?

Boyd: Well, a lot of that has to do with removing financial barriers. Let’s say we have a sporting event. We get all kids to come to the sporting event. If we have a dance, we’re going to remove that financial barrier.

Q: Cinderella’s Closet?

Boyd: Cinderella’s Closet is a great example. For homecoming this year, we took seven or eight kids up there, and they got dresses and shoes, they were all ready to go. They weren’t going to be able to afford that stuff or to be able to have that experience.

Having those positive experiences shows the world, the school cares about you, so let’s give it another try. We know you’ve been frustrated, but let’s give it another try.

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