What IS the Homeless Education Network?
Across HCEF's thirteen years of direct experience, research, and one-on-one relationship-building with our partner homeless agencies, the public and parochial schools, county human services providers, regional libraries, and a host of community partners, it has steadily broadened and deepened its efforts to positively impact the academic achievement of children and youth who are homeless.
It's this experience that motivated HCEF to establish a formal partnership with these entities. The goal: to share responsibilities for ensuring the educational rights of these children and youth are honored and supported. HCEF serves as catalyst and convener.
HEN's mission is to "Serve as the catalyst for community collaboration aimed at improving educational outcomes for children and youth experiencing homelessness as mandated by the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act.
As one HEN partner (director of a homeless residential agency serving families with children) has commented succinctly: "We do need to circle the wagons and hold accountable every entity responsible for our children. I know money is always an issue, but it's such a terrible thing that education is under funded and these children do not receive the services they are entitled to under our laws."
And in the words of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, in a June 2010 address entitled Education and Destiny, "This is about so much more than education. This is about social justice. The fight for quality education is a fight for social justice. No other issue offers the same promise of equality as education." Specifically, HEN connects and advocates with interested parties, facilitates discussions among partners, serves as a catalyst for action, creates effective models, brokers resources, and provides a forum for community discussions to create action all to ensure children and youth who are experiencing homelessness are enrolled, attending, and succeeding in school as mandated by the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act.
Why does a Homeless Education Network matter? Consider this fact:
From July 1, 2010, through January 31, 2011, some 1700 children in Allegheny County from birth through grade twelve were identifiable as homeless. (Source of data: Allegheny County school districts and agencies housing families with children.)
Key steps in building the Network include:
- identifying the existing educational and social services in the region that can be of benefit to students who are homeless
- disseminating information about services to families, children's programs, and schools
- directing human and financial resources toward programs that demonstrate the most promise and are in greatest demand
- creating a functional web of communication within and between service providers
Ultimately, the network will help build capacity within homeless housing facilities, within neighborhoods, and within the greater region as local school districts, community organizations, foundations, and federal, state, and county agencies assume the major responsibility for sustaining the Homeless Education Network mission to ensure all school-aged children coping with homelessness have the same opportunities for appropriate and adequate instruction and support as do their peers.
Specifically, HCEF is committed to developing a coherent and sustainable Network that will make possible:
- thorough assessment of each child's gifts, talents, and educational needs at intake (Individual Support Plans)
- developmental assessment and comprehensive support for children ages 0-5
- access to computers, advanced learning software, and internet-based services
- access to rich resource libraries geared toward the Pennsylvania education standards
- pedagogical support for teachers, tutors, and other educational specialists
- a fostering of open communication between school districts and homeless residential housing services
- adequate transportation to and from school and after-school activities
- opportunities to participate in educational and cultural field trips
- better connections between students, after-school tutoring, and extracurricular activities
- the creation of partnerships with organizations that can be of benefit to the children
- a shift of financial responsibility from HCEF to local school districts, community organizations, and federal, state, and county agencies
- continued advocacy for the educational rights of every child and youth living in Allegheny County and of the continuing reauthorization of the McKinney-Vento Act.
HCEF recognizes that HEN, still in its infancy, is already increasing partnering organizations' internal capabilities, building bridges to other community resources, and having a positive impact upon student academic performance. [See Clairton Collaborative, an example of what is possible when a school district and a homeless housing agency serving families with children work collaboratively.]
HCEF's HEN partners include the Allegheny Department of Human Services, Allegheny Intermediate Unit, Clairton School District, Diocese of Pittsburgh, Duquesne University, Education Law Center, Homeless Children's Initiative Region V, independent Homeless Housing Providers, Operation Safety Net, Pennsylvania Department of Education, Pittsburgh Public Schools, Sisters Place, The Heinz Endowment, The Pittsburgh Foundation, University of Pittsburgh Office of Child Development, and Wilkinsburg School District.
Major funding in support of the Homeless Education Network has come from The Heinz Endowments.
Coverage from the 2012 Summit
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