The number of homeless students in the Kenai Peninsula school system has grown since this time last year.
Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Superintendent Steve Atwater announced that the number of youth in the Students in Transition program was 36 percent higher at the Oct. 20, Board of Education meeting. He said administrators were unsure of why the number of eligible students had jumped so drastically.
The figure has declined slightly since Atwater’s report, said Students in Transition’s Homeless Liaison Kelly King. Currently the number of eligible students is closer to 30 percent more than it was at this time last year, she said.
King said students are identified throughout the school year. Currently 147 children and youth are in the program, she said.
Youth affected by unstable housing can lose up to one semester of learned material each year with each unplanned school move, King said.
The district’s database contains information on the students the district identifies as eligible for Students in Transition services in the past decade, King said. Looking at enrollment numbers for the last 4 years, the average number of homeless students identified in KPBSD each year is 253, she said.
The more populated an area is, the more students are reported as homeless, King said. The Anchorage School District reports more than 3,000 homeless students each year and the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District reports more than 400, she said.
If enrollment continues along current trends, numbers may prove to be high this year for the district, King said. It is hard to tell right now what the profile will look like by the end of the year.
Once a student is known to be a homeless child or unaccompanied youth — a student not living with a parent or legal guardian — the district continues to support and monitor them for the duration of the school year, King said. Once a student experiences homelessness the likelihood that they will become homeless again is increased, she said.
King referred to homeless students as “invisible members of the community.” She said local events such as the annual Candlelight Vigil for Homeless Youth and Families, to be held from 6-7 p.m. Thursday at Farnsworth Park in Soldotna, attempt to illuminate the seriousness of the issue.
Atwater will speak at the event, followed by the presentation of a scholarship opportunity for high school students who attend the vigil, King said. Community efforts also help eliminate some of the barriers to education for homeless youth, which is the goal of Students in Transition program.
During the 2013-2014 school year, Homer and Kenai each accounted for 27 percent of the 200 students identified as homeless in the district, according to Students in Transition program data. Homeless students in Soldotna accounted for 18 percent, according to the data.
The Students in Transition Program was a result of the McKinney-Vento Act, the first piece of legislation that systematically addressed the issue of homeless youth in schools systems, King said. It was then reauthorized under No Child Left Behind. Students in Transition began in 2002, she said.
King said reasons for homelessness on the peninsula include a lack of affordable housing, addiction disorders and domestic violence and abuse, poverty even when employed, illness and lack of health insurance, and disasters such as house fires or flooding such as the October 2013 Kalifornsky Beach Road area flood, King said.
Students in Transition assistance includes helping students with immediate enrollment, transportation from their school of origin, free school meal benefits, school supplies, and obtaining important documents, and a variety of other supports and services, King said.
School stability helps youth with their academic performance and emotional well being, King said, adding that school is sometimes the only constant when everything else is chaos.
“It is a critical issue in our area,” King said.
Reach Kelly Sullivan at firstname.lastname@example.org.