AR public schools enroll record number of homeless students - KAIT Jonesboro, AR - Region 8 News, weather, sports

AR public schools enroll record number of homeless students

WILSON, AR (KAIT) - Arkansas public schools enroll a record number of homeless students, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Over 10,000 homeless students enrolled in Arkansas preschools and K-12 in the 2012-2013 school year, which is an 14 percent increase from the previous year.

Debbie Girdley is the homeless liaison with the Rivercrest School District and said tough economic times generally indicate an increasing numbers of homeless students. Low income, increase in poverty and a lack of affordable housing are other factors that lead to homelessness. 

"I've had a lot of children come up and tell me they need things" she said. 

The Rivercrest School District provides homeless students with transportation, clothes and food. They also partner with local churches and shelters to provide temporary housing. 

"I know there probably is more in other parts of the state from what I've learned at conferences but I know it's growing more and more," Girdley said. The numbers vary from year to year but they have more than 25 homeless students at one time. 

According to the report by the U.S. Department of Education, homeless children face more challenges when it comes to education, health and safety. Homeless children are more likely to be diagnosed with learning disabilities, transfer schools more often and are likely to have lower test scores. Homeless students are 87% more likely to drop out of school.

"We have helped seniors, we try to help them graduate and try to get their testing done and we help pay for that," she said. But the students also face challenges socially.

"They don't feel like they fit in," Girdley said. "You know we don't want it to be noticeable."

She said they find older students are more likely to mask their situation because they don't want anyone to know. Faculty and staff also go through training to know what signs could indicate homelessness. 

"Even our bus drivers, they may see that a student is getting on at a different house and realize something is going on there," she said. "If they are wearing the same clothes everyday."

The increase in Arkansas' homeless students from the previous school year passes the national increase of 8 percent. 

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