Extending Learning Time for Disadvantaged Students - Volume 2 Profiles of Promising Practices - 1995
A r c h i v e d I n f o r m a t i o n
Educational Program For Homeless Children And Youth
Devil's Lake, North Dakota
- Collaboration between school district and community agency
The Educational Program for Homeless Children and Youth, administered by the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction, provides tutoring, homework assistance, and recreational activities to homeless children. The program exists at nine sites, three of which are school districts. The remaining six programs are housed in community-based organizations and centers, including a YWCA, an agency that targets troubled adolescents, and a resource center for abused adults. The sites provide tutoring several times a week, after school, or in the evening. The Devil's Lake school district also runs summer programs for elementary students that provide counseling services and academic assistance. That 12-week program, started in 1990 and profiled below, is run by the school district and by an agency that serves troubled families.
The Devil's Lake summer program, which operates from 10 a.m. to noon, served 22 students in 1993. Six of the students were Native American, and 16 were Anglo. Approximately half of the students qualify for subsidized lunch. The summer program is located at one of the district's three elementary schools, and students are bused to the central site. Because of limited resources, in 1993 the program accepted 22 of the 100 students referred to the program by teachers--those deemed most at-risk of school failure. Because the program serves a fairly small number of students, tutors are able to discuss each child's needs and progress with his or her classroom teachers.
Major Program Features
- Planning and design. The state Department of Public Instruction began providing McKinney Act funds in 1988 to education programs for the estimated 250 to 500 homeless children in North Dakota. At the site in Devil's Lake, the Families First agency and the elementary schools were already collaborating, with funding from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, to allow a teacher with experience in foster care to visit families of children experiencing sudden academic failure, poor socialization, or behavior problems. The Devil's Lake summer program began in 1990 as a response to concerns of teachers and Family First staff that homeless children were falling behind academically, especially between school years, and an awareness that these students needed a safe place to go when school was not in session.
The summer program began with a parent survey to determine the extent of the need for such services. The program was piloted in one elementary school before expanding to two more. The late arrival of funds and short planning time resulted in a recreational focus during the first year. During the past two years, the program was restructured to include pre-program student evaluations that enable staff to target specific academic, social, and behavioral needs.
- Academic focus. Tutors work with students individually as needed, during sessions that meet for two hours a day, five days a week. Classroom teachers work closely with program staff to provide input on what type of help each child requires. Teachers evaluate each child before the summer program begins, using a questionnaire developed by Families First, to determine areas of academic weakness. The student then receives individual help from a tutor in these areas. Program staff also look closely at the students' report cards to identify social or behavioral problems, which they address through art therapy. Participants also use the library for whole language activities and participate in supplemental instruction in phonics and a take-home reading program that involves parents in student reading. The program includes field trips to the local newspaper and fire station, and recreational opportunities, such as picnics at the local park and lake, usually supervised by high school students.
- Organizational management/structure. The Devil's Lake School District determines the summer program's curricular needs, and Families First controls the budget. An advisory board was created in 1990 to plan, implement, and oversee the district's after-school programs and the summer program. The board meets monthly; members include an elementary school principal, a bank vice-president, a parent, a family-school liaison, the director of Families First, the county's director of extension services, and a retired senior volunteer. The advisory board is expected to assume most responsibility for the summer and after-school projects soon, because Families First is planning to close. With the loss of Families First, the long-range status of the summer program is unclear. The advisory committee has applied for a federal Chemical and Substance Abuse Prevention grant to continue the program in 1995, but has not named an administrative agency to replace Families First.
Much of the planning for the summer program was done by Families First, with major input from teachers who refer students to the program. Staffing includes one full-time and two part-time staff members from Families First, 12 teacher volunteers, three high school students, and a bus driver. Each teacher usually volunteers to tutor students for one week. Although the summer program occurs at an elementary school, the district has not assumed financial ownership of the program. Staff at the Families First agency work closely with the elementary school principals and teachers to plan the program each year.
- Parent and community involvement. Although there is no formal mechanism for parent involvement, parents are encouraged to become involved by visiting school or accompanying their children on field trips. Parents also receive tips on how to help their children learn at home, and they receive handwritten newsletters from program staff informing them of activities. Staff conduct a parent survey each year to elicit feedback from parents, and families attend a "graduation" ceremony at the end of the program. The community has been more involved with the district's after-school program than with the summer program. Almost all meals provided by the summer program are donated by restaurants, and one restaurant sponsored a pizza party for children and their parents.
- Professional environment. School personnel are involved in the summer program, including a certified social worker, art and reading teachers, and two tutors. Each of the programs also has a core group of volunteers. There are no formal staff development activities associated with these programs. The core staff is paid, while others volunteer time and may receive an honorarium if money is available. Informal school support for the programs is very strong.
- Funding. Annual funding for the entire state program is approximately $60,000. The money primarily covers supplies and stipends for tutors and counselors involved with the program. However, the approximately $7,500 that Devil's Lake receives from the state homeless grant for the summer program covers only half of the program costs. Families First has covered the remaining costs, mainly in the form of staff salaries. The grant does not cover transportation, which is provided by the Families First van. The district provides space for the program at an elementary school.
The per-pupil expenditure for the program in Devil's Lake is approximately $613, or $5.11 per student hour. Although the program will lose significant funding when Families First closes, the program may receive $6,500 from a foundation grant obtained by a now-defunct local youth organization. The school district has obtained $8,500 in state McKinney Act funding to include homeless children in an after-school childcare program during the regular school year, with transportation provided by a church--but this program will not operate during the summer.
- Assessment and accountability. The program files monthly reports with a state coordinator, who visits at least once a year. The reports describe the number of children served and types of activities provided. All children participating in the 1993 summer program took the Wide Range Achievement Test (WRAT) before and after the program, supervised by a Families First staff member. Organizers are now seeking parental permission to compare pre- and post-program grades with a group of similar children who did not participate in the summer program.
There is no clear "owner" of the program in Devil's Lake--a circumstance that has had both positive and negative ramifications. The Families First agency and the school district forged a strong and mutually beneficial relationship with each other because students' needs are identified and monitored by teachers and agency staff; as the Families First director commented, "I can't imagine trying to implement a program like this without the full commitment of the school system." Funding for Families First expired, and the district has struggled to find ways to run the program without the agency's input and transportation assistance. Members of the program advisory board acknowledge that the small community's weak economic base does not offer any clear funding solutions.
The community-based advisory board, which one principal identified as crucial to program success, has resulted in strong community support. However, neither the district nor Families First wanted to take responsibility for evaluating program outcomes. Instead, they have relied on formative evaluation through parent surveys.
Evidence of Success
Analysis of the pre- and post-program WRAT scores in 1993 showed an improvement in math and language skills for almost all students. Teachers report academic and behavioral improvement in children who participate in the summer program; the Families First director described one student who had been unable to master a math concept during the school year but did so after intensive summer tutoring and proudly demonstrated his new-found knowledge to his former teacher the following year. Teacher involvement in the program has increased, with more teachers requesting that children receive tutoring in specific subjects. Parent surveys also indicate a high level of satisfaction with the Devil's Lake program.
[Title I Summer Program For Private School Children]