Education Champions: Program fights harmful ‘student mobility’Written by Kristen Criswell | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Editor’s Note: Toledo Free Press, United Way of Greater Toledo and 13abc’s “Bridges” with Doni Miller are profiling 12 education initiative programs in Northwest Ohio. This is the sixth story in the series.
High student mobility, or how often a child changes schools, can have a negative impact on a student’s education. The Stable Families Collaborative helps fight student mobility in Toledo by providing families with housing assistance.
Since the program’s inception in October 2009, it has helped roughly 124 families, with 85 percent of children remaining in the same school.
The Stable Families Collaborative is a United Way program administered by case workers at Lutheran Social Services of Northwest Ohio. The program is designed specifically to address the issue of student mobility.
“The goal is to decrease student mobility rates. If you have two kids in the household, it becomes how can we help that family be stable and make sure those kids aren’t missing school and stay in the same school,” said Jason Daniels, vice president of Strategic Initiatives at United Way of Greater Toledo.
“With so many issues in the area of education right now, we believe no kid should have to miss any day for any reason,” he said. “We know when a person is moving or a parent is moving from one place to another even if they have to move into a shelter, most of the time those kids aren’t going to school.”
When children are forced to relocate to a new school, it can have a negative impact on their school performance and peer relationships, said Wendy Shaheen, vice president of program services at Lutheran Social Services and former Stable Families case worker.
“For children and teens their peer group is a huge part of their world. They need that stability, especially if the family is in crisis, whether financially or through divorce,” she said. “With a lot of stress going on in their home environment, plus the stress of having to make a whole new adjustment at a new school with new teachers, that can be difficult.”
According to Education Week, education studies have found problems students face when they move from school to school include lower achievement levels, behavior problems and a greater risk of dropping out.
The Stable Families Collaborative can help fight mobility and prevent future problems for students by helping families remain in their homes.
The program provides financial assistance to families with school-aged children who are in need of rental assistance. Families call United Way’s 2-1-1, where they are screened to see if they qualify for the program.
Since the program is funded by two grants — $300,000 for three years from the Siemer Family Foundation and Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program funds through the Department of Housing and Urban Development — as well as $20,000 from United Way, in order to qualify families must meet a list of criteria.
The most important qualifications are the family must have school-age children and have the ability to earn income after a short period of time, Shaheen said.
If a family qualifies they are then paired with a caseworker who will assist the family with their landlord, help them with their budgeting, refer the adults to other community agencies for employment opportunities or skill building, Shaheen said.
“We work with the clients to see what are their goals beyond getting this rent paid. As well as what are some of the other factors influencing their current situation,” she said.
If a family cannot remain in their home for any reason, often the rapid- rehousing portion of the program can help make sure a child doesn’t miss any school, Daniels said.
After completing work with a social worker, Lutheran Social Services checks up with the family in three months to see how everything is going.
Currently the program accepts one to two families every few weeks, Daniels said. However, since there are only two caseworkers the “pipeline gets clogged” often depending on their current caseload, he said.
Stable Families Collaborative is modeled after similar programs in Columbus and Florida, which receive part of their funding from the Siemer Family Foundation as part of its family stability initiative.
While helping to screen students at a school in Columbus, Barbara Siemer, chairwoman of the Siemer Family Foundation and former teacher, saw only 19 of 116 students to be at grade level. When she inquired with the principal as to what the problem was, he told her of those 116 students only three would start at that school in September and end there in June.
In Columbus she began working with a social worker, the school districts and landlords to help students.
“You can’t stabilize a kid if you haven’t stabilized the family. Preventing homelessness was the only way I could prevent student mobility,” she said.
Siemer established a grant working with local United Ways to help fight mobility issues in different cities in Florida, where she and her husband split their time. Four cities in Ohio and six in Florida receive funds from the Siemer Family Foundation for family stability programs. Siemer hopes to work with more United Ways to administer similar programs, she said.
The Stable Families Collaborative features other community partners including the City of Toledo Department of Neighborhoods, Economic Opportunity Planning Association of Greater Toledo, Family Outreach Community United Services of Toledo, Toledo Area Ministries, Toledo Lucas County Homelessness Board and Treatment Alternatives to Street Crime.