As schools open for a new school year, they’ll also start encountering student poverty and homelessness. At last count — the 2013/2014 school year – the number of homeless students had risen to more than 71,000 in the state’s public schools. For many of these children, a brand new school uniform may be out of reach, though school officials say it makes a big impact on their attitude. One longtime charity in Lakeland is quietly helping to fill that need.
Lady Wolverton started the Needlework Guild in England in 1882, when she asked her friends to knit clothes for orphans of a Welsh mining disaster. Reports of the group’s good works filtered back to the States, and a few years later, an American woman in Philadelphia reproduced the Needlework Guild there.
There are only two branches in Florida, both in Polk County. One is in Bartow, and the Lakeland branch — founded in 1935 — is celebrating its 80th anniversary. Many of the volunteers have mothers or grandmothers who raised money for Needlework Guild.
Evans High School in Orange County used to be known as a dropout factory. But since 2007, it’s gone from a two-time F-rated school to a B-rated school – in one of Orlando’s most troubled neighborhoods. Now, the “community school” concept is spreading to other Florida cities.
Evans is in a neighborhood called Pine Hills, where homes and businesses have bars at the windows. One student, found carrying a Taser, said it was due to her dangerous route home. The neighborhood has exceptionally high rates of juvenile crime and referrals to the Florida Department of Children and Families.
“We have long said at the Department of Children and Families that if we’re ever going to get our arms around neglect and abuse, it has to be a community-wide effort.”
DCF Secretary Mike Carroll. He says Evans has succeeded by becoming what’s called a “community school” — addressing the barriers to student success in a high-risk neighborhood.
“Everything from getting a child to school when they need to be there to making sure they’re fed when they arrive at school to making sure it’s safe going back and forth to school. If there are issues at home that may impact the child’s ability to learn when they get to school, that there’s assistance to do that…”
Students who are considered homeless by Florida schools can be living in hotels, trailer parks, in campgrounds or doubled up with friends or relatives. And with as many as 71,000 or more homeless students in the state the challenges can extend beyond the kids and families to include the schools.
For most kids school is a place of achievement and learning, or just a place to socialize with friends. But for kids without stable living arrangements it can mean much more than that.
Tampa Bay 2-1-1
It's difficult to estimate how many students are homeless.
School districts want to help their homeless students, but first they have to know who they are.
Estimates vary greatly on how many homeless students there are in Florida. Some say the number is as high as one in every 18.
Ken Gaughan supervises social work for Hillsborough County Public Schools. They asked experts how many homeless students they may have.
“And the input we get is – you need to look at your free lunch count in the district and our free lunch count is pretty high,” Gaughan said. “It’s around 55 percent. They say about 10 percent of your free lunch population is also homeless. And that’s a pretty big number.”
So the Schultz Center had to change. The non-profit is expanding beyond Northeast Florida to offer training to teachers statewide, both in person and online. And they’re building an incubator for education entrepreneurs.
They’re also helping teachers adjust to big changes in the classroom.
The difference in passing rates between state and federal tests has been dubbed the proficiency, or honesty, gap.
Some states are telling students and parents they are better at reading, writing, math and other subjects than they really are, according to a new website from the Foundation for Excellence in Education.
The website, WhyProficiencyMatters.com, tracks the percentage of students scoring at grade level on state tests — “proficient” in education jargon. The site then compares those rates to how well students perform on the National Assessment of Education Progress, or NAEP. Students take the NAEP every two years and the exam results are considered the gold-standard of education data.
The group has found that many states report a much higher percentage of students are proficient on state tests than are proficient on NAEP. Foundation for Excellence in Education director Patricia Levesque says some states are telling students they’re ready for college or the workforce when they might not be.
“It’s really important to look at what is the gap between how your students are doing on the national test compared to how they’re doing on the state test,” she said, “because that gap tells you, basically, how honest is your state being to parents with how their individual child is doing.
“We’ve been telling parents ‘Oh no, your child is fine.’ But then when they get to college they’re actually not ready.”
State Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is briefed on AMskills.
Not every high school student wants to or even needs to go to college, but graduating students without a college degree may have a hard time gaining entry or experience at companies hiring for high paying, high skilled jobs. A local program is trying to bring that experience to graduating students.
Seven years in the making, AMskills was designed to be a German style apprenticeship program where tenth grade students apply to get in, just like applying for a job, and train on the job while earning good money. After graduation, they have experience and sometimes a job waiting for them.
“We’re always looking for a skilled workforce,” Juergen Borsh, general consul for Germany, said. ”This is one of the big obstacles when a decision is being made in a German company- where do we want to go and invest?”
Borsch said German businesses in the US want to expand their operations but they can’t find enough workers who have the skills they need.
“I have learned here in Florida, I have been here for two years now, that many companies say we would love to expand,” Borsch said, “We could expand– we need the people, and I hear this in so many different fields.”
Ashley Jean has enrolled in a global studies program at Long Island University. Now she's trying to raise money to help pay for travel costs.
Ashley Jean is graduating from Miami’s iPrep Academy this week. And then she’s planning to travel the world.
Jean will start a global studies program through Long Island University that will eventually take her to places like Costa Rica, Australia, Bali and Spain.
That’s a lot of plane tickets.
“I don’t want money to be a reason why I can’t change my life,” Jean says, “so I have to work hard to do what I can to get this program.”
Like a growing number of college students, Jean is turning to crowdfunding sites to help her raise money for college. The sites let users search by location or topic and donate directly to causes they like.
It’s just a fraction of the total cost of the program – but every bit helps. She says gofundme lets her make the pitch her way.
“I put orange because that’s my favorite color,” she says of her page. “Usually the photo or video it usually enhances — they require you to have a photo because it makes it [easier] for you to get more money and stuff.”
The entrance to Enterprise High School, a charter school in Pinellas County for students at risk for not completing their educations.
Of the more than 600 charter schools in Florida. Some focus on the arts, some on sciences. Others are high schools that help students who are at risk for not finishing or dropping out completely.
At the crossroads of busy four lane highway in Clearwater, students have to make their way through the noise and exhaust of heavy traffic to get to their high school classes.
Tucked in the back of of a strip mall is Enterprise High School. The 5-year-old charter school focuses on just one kind of student, those at risk for not finishing high school at all.
You may have one a lot like it very close by and not even know it.
Donna Hulbert, Director of the school says Enterprise gives its student free bus passes, eliminating one obstacle to getting here on time.
“We are located here, really, for one purpose only. We have four bus stops on the corners of our intersection.”