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Archive for the ‘San Francisco Unified School District’ Category

Kindergartners face hurdles to better health

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
September 13, 2008

San Francisco may have a reputation as a health-conscious city, but a recent study found that kindergartners in local public schools were more likely to be overweight than kids their age nationwide.

A sample of 4,000 kindergartners entering school in the fall of 2007 showed that 18 percent of girls and 20 percent of boys were overweight, compared with 13 percent of girls and 15 percent of boys nationally, according to an Applied Survey Research study commissioned by First 5 San Francisco and the San Francisco Unified School District.

“There are plenty of kids who, by the time they’re 4 or 5, have a weight problem,” said Dana Woldow, co-chair of the SFUSD’s nutrition and physical activity committee. “And you’re going to see it most in low-income, Latino, Pacific Islander and African-American kids.”

Hispanic kindergartners composed 28 percent of last year’s student population, which also included 26 percent Chinese, 17 percent “other,” 16 percent white and 13 percent black students, according to the APR study. In addition, 54 percent of SFUSD students qualified for free or reduced-cost lunch in 2007-08, meaning their families took in less than $39,000 per year, according to Woldow.

Researchers also found that fewer San Francisco kindergartners were at risk of becoming overweight when compared with the national average, but speculated that parents might have under-reported the weights of “borderline” children but were more straightforward when their children were obviously overweight, according to the study.

More children become overweight as they get into their preteens. While 13.9 percent of children ages 2 to 5 were deemed overweight nationwide, that percentage rose to 18.8 percent among children ages 6 to 11, then fell slightly to 17.4 among kids 12 to 19, according to Karen Hunter with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

However, officials are working hard to help kids shape up.

Public-school kids are required to spend roughly 20 minutes per day in some kind of physical activity or play, from hula hoops to somersaults or running games, according to Mark Elkin in the SFUSD’s health division. Their school-provided meals also must meet U.S. Department of Agriculture nutrition regulations, Elkin said.

Outside of school, children may stay outdoors because their neighborhoods are plagued by frequent violence, said Department of Public Health worker Christine Ngoette, who focuses on citywide fitness and nutrition policy.

“I would look at Sunday Streets as an example of how we’re trying to create environments that are conducive to getting outside and having fun,” Ngoette said.

How San Francisco compares nationwide

Kindergarteners in overweight category (95th percentile or more):

SAN FRANCISCO
Boys: 18%
Girls: 20%

UNITED STATES
Boys: 13%
Girls: 15%

Average number of overweight children, nationwide:
Age 2-5: 13.9%
Age 6-11: 18.8%
Age 12-19: 17.4%

Sources: Applied Survey Research, National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

This story originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

September 13, 2008 at 11:17 PM

Superintendent making the grade

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
August 26, 2008

SAN FRANCISCO — Touring a number of schools on the first day of classes Monday, Carlos Garcia was greeted heartily by parents, teachers and principals, some shaking his hands, some actually hugging him.

As the superintendent of San Francisco Unified School District, Garcia had some massive hurdles to overcome when he was hired to lead the district last summer. Former superintendent Arlene Ackerman departed with the reputation of having polarized the district. Schools’ leaders said black and Hispanic students were falling further behind.

“We needed someone who was a unifying force, someone who could speak to the positives about public education and yet have a clear understanding of the extreme challenges we have, in terms of the achievement gap [between white and Asian students and Latino and black students],” said Mark Sanchez, chair of the Board of Education.

By all accounts, the district received it — in spades.

Throughout The City, leaders credit Garcia with accomplishing two of the major goals he set for his first year on the job: convincing voters in a tough budget year to approve Proposition A, a $198 parcel tax to boost teacher salaries, and creating the strategic plan, a five-year plan that Garcia hopes will close the achievement gap, which has been a growing problem for The City.

They also credit him with taking the time to visit every school in his first year and to getting to know each principal and many teachers.

“I like seeing him come out here and talk to the community,” said Rudy Corpuz, executive director of United Playaz, a group that works with at-risk youth. “We need more of that.”

However, while most say Garcia has done a lot to lay the groundwork for positive change in San Francisco schools, the coming year will show whether that change can happen.

“It’s very early to make a judgment about his time in San Francisco,” said Dennis Kelly, president of the teachers’ union. “But our concern is that [the strategic plan] shouldn’t be a lot of additional work for the teachers.”

Jill Wynns, the longest-serving member of the Board of Education and an Ackerman supporter, agreed that Garcia must get down to brass tacks when rolling out the plan and how it will help students.

“He’s had a good honeymoon, but it’s still a honeymoon,” Wynns said.

As for Garcia, the former superintendent for the Clark County School District in Las Vegas, he said he’s proud of his first-year accomplishments. However, he’s hoping this year he will be able to tackle literacy and mathematics, programs he didn’t get to as quickly as he wanted.

“Last year was a great year, but you can always say you could have done more,” Garcia said.

Garcia’s report card
Schools leaders weigh in on the achievements of Carlos Garcia, hired last summer as superintendent of San Francisco Unified School District

School leader Grade
Lorraine Woodruff-Long (parent leader): A
Mark Sanchez (board of education chair): A
Dennis Kelly (president of teachers’ union)*: A

Year one goals accomplished?
Help get Prop. A passed: Yes
Develop and approve the strategic plan: Yes
Hire assistant superintendent: Yes
Hire superintendent of academics: Yes
Kick off new K-3 literacy programs: No
Kick off new mathematics program: No

Year two goals
Roll out the strategic plan
Revamp district’s school-assignment system
Start K-3 literacy programs
Start new mathematics program

* Kelly gave an incomplete grade on Garcia’s ability to close the achievement gap

This story originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

August 26, 2008 at 5:59 AM

School district defends safety measures

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
May 25, 2008

Four San Francisco students have been caught bringing firearms to class this year, and 65 carried other weapons — incidents the Public Defender’s Office says are becoming increasingly common.

A 6-year-old brought a handgun to Cleveland Elementary School on May 9, the day after a 17-year-old was discovered with a loaded semi-automatic weapon during an evening class at Lowell High School. Two other gun-possession cases were reported earlier this school year, according to district data.

Though recent incidents sparked online debates over access to guns — even toy guns — among San Francisco parents, district officials say existing safety measures are working well.

Security guards and police officers are posted at most San Francisco Unified School District campuses, spokeswoman Gentle Blythe said. Schools perform lockdown drills once a year, but have not installed metal detectors to check students for weapons — and don’t plan to.

“One of the goals is to be open and inviting, to create a place where students and parents feel safe,” Blythe said. “There are a lot of ways to create that safety.”

When a student is disciplined for carrying a weapon, “we make sure they get counseling and other support, so they can hopefully integrate back into the school system,” Trustee Eric Mar said.

Despite occasional guns in school, students haven’t shot fellow students on campus, Public Defender Jeff Adachi said.

However, “We’ve definitely seen more cases of young people with guns,” Adachi said. “And if you’re seeing a steady flow of guns and knives in school it raises that possibility [of a shooting].”

Juvenile-hall inmates polled by the Public Defender’s Office said students predominantly carry weapons for protection — not assault.

But protection can mean something different to teens such as the student who brought a gun to a San Francisco high school several years ago, said Visitacion Valley Middle School Principal James Dierke, who would not name the school where the incident happened.

“This boy had bought the gun the day before on Market Street for $100 because someone had taken his parking space at school and he was going to get the guy,” Dierke said.

At Visitacion Valley, assemblies teach the consequences of gun violence — both for the victim and for the perpetrator, Dierke said.

Trustees have taken disciplinary action against the 6-year-old, though details could not be revealed for legal reasons, said trustee Eric Mar.

Setting a trend

SFUSD started tracking student incidents involving weapons or assaults to spot trends. Here’s what it found this school year:

Students who brought guns to school: 4

Students who brought other weapons to school: 65

Assaults with weapons: 22

Battery cases: 17

The security detail is divided between many schools.

Total guards: 119

1 at a child development center

8 at elementary schools

2 per middle school

4 per high school

Total police: 32

On duty: Ten hours per day, four days per week

Patrolling: Middle and high schools

Source: SFUSD

This story originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

May 25, 2008 at 11:01 PM

Improved exam scores beat peers, trail ’burbs

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
May 21, 2008

San Francisco public school students continue to outperform students in other urban areas statewide on standardized tests, but they still struggle to keep up with the high scores of the neighboring districts in the Bay Area, according to data released Wednesday by the California Department of Education.

The San Francisco Unified School District’s overall score — based on students’ collective performance on the tests — improved this year, bringing the district to a 764, just a few points shy of the state’s target score of 800 for all schools and districts. Schools are ranked between a lowof 200 and a high of 1,000.

When compared with urban districts across the state, San Francisco continues to come out on top. But the district rubs shoulders with higher-scoring districts, such as Alameda and Palo Alto unified, where students are scoring above 800.

“The fact is, we’re doing better than our peers — but the bar is relatively low,” Mayor Gavin Newsom told The Examiner on Wednesday. “I’m proud of our progress, but we need much more audacious goals.”

Boosting minorities’ performance is one of those goals, according to Superintendent Carlos Garcia.

In SFUSD, black students in The City earned an API score of 582, while Hispanics scored at 649 — compared with 843 for Asians and 849 for whites, according to the California Department of Education.

In the coming years, Garcia said he is hoping to use the API, along with other measures, to track student progress.

Garcia’s plan would pinpoint trouble spots and highlight schools that have stumbled upon ways to help low-performing students succeed, he said.

“We won’t have to hire outside consultants to tell us how to do this — we can use in-house expertise and share information on what’s working,” Garcia said.

Overall, elementary and middle schools in The City are ahead of their peers — urban or otherwise. While 34.6 percent of elementary schools in California scored 800 or higher, 46 percent of San Francisco schools did. Among California middle schools, 24.6 percent reached or exceeded 800 while 31 percent of San Francisco middle schools did so.

However, only one San Francisco high school, Lowell, exceeded 800.

School wears ‘most improved’ honor proudly

“Most improved” can sometimes be a dubious honor, but the leaders of Metropolitan Arts and Technology High, a charter school catering mainly to low-income minority students, are taking it proudly.

Metropolitan saw its Academic Performance Index scores rise 95 points, from 580 in 2006 to 675 in 2007 — its second straight year of 90-plus growth, according to Vice Principal Todd Williams.

The state gives schools and districts a target goal of 800.

The school population is comprised of at least 41 percent black and Hispanic students, with numerous others listing their ethnicity as “multiple.” Black and Hispanic students make up approximately 35 percent of the overall district population.

With 22 students per classroom and plenty of advisors and parental involvement at Metropolitan, which was founded in 2005, students are thriving, teachers said.

“We have a diverse population … with many coming from poverty or violence,” said Abby Benedetto, one of Metropolitan’s teachers. “We’re able to sit down with a student and say ‘Working on this essay is going to be the thing that gets you out of your neighborhood.’”

This story originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

May 21, 2008 at 10:48 PM

Students plod along on slow Web

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
May 5, 2008

SAN FRANCISCO — San Francisco may be known as a hotbed of high-tech innovation, but more than one-third of its public schools connect to the Internet with something that more closely resembles a rutted back road than a superhighway.

While 68 schools in the San Francisco Unified School District access the Internet via a relatively fast 10-megabit-per-second connection, 41 elementaries and high schools plod along on 1.5-Mbps T1 connections — barely enough for a single-family home, said Brianne Meyer, head of the district’s technology division.

When more than a handful of students or teachers use those slower connections at the same time, they can slow down or fail — putting an end to high-tech learning for the day, Meyer said.

“We have days when it works, and days when it doesn’t,” said Nur Jehan Khalique, principal at Sheridan Elementary School, whose staff and student computer labs share a T1 link. “If we’re working on a unit and it’s not up and running, we’re not tech people — it’s not like we can fix it.”

Schools that have faster connections are faring better — but they do not necessarily have every student online at the same time, such as at Balboa High School, where Michael Rosenberg is head of the Technology Academy.

“Our connections aren’t bad … but we don’t have computers for all the students. We just don’t have the resources,” Rosenberg said.

With better connectivity, students can take advantage of streaming-video programs that make learning more engaging, Meyer said. In addition, there are online-only programs that offer students individualized tutoring to help them keep up with their studies.

The vast majority of parents and teens — 80 percent and 86 percent, respectively — said familiarity with the Internet helps teens perform better in school, according to a 2005 report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

In some cases, students may not have a computer or Internet access at home, making access at school even more important, Khalique said.

This fall, the district will begin courtingbroadband companies that would provide 100-Mbps connections to every school, Meyer said.

The district currently pays AT&T $1.15 million per year for Internet connectivity — 74 percent of which is reimbursed through federal dollars. Schools that have more low-income students receive more money, Meyer said.

Because of those reimbursements, upgrading to the high-speed system shouldn’t cost much more than the district spends now, Meyer said. Some companies estimated the installation alone could otherwise cost $30 million.

San Francisco’s existing Internet connections are about on par with districts across California, most of which wire schools with 10 Mbps connections, said Todd Finnell, CEO of the K-12 High-Speed Network.

This story originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

May 5, 2008 at 5:53 AM

School asthma gains fall short of breathtaking

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by Beth Winegarner
Staff Writer
April 28, 2008

For the roughly one in five youths in San Francisco with asthma, getting through the school day can be like navigating a minefield of mold, dust and pollen that can trigger an asthma attack.

In 2002, three children died during asthma attacks in facilities owned by the San Francisco Unified School District, said Anjali Nath, advocacy coordinator with the San Francisco Asthma Task Force. One of the children was Armani Johnson, 4, who died in a restroom in Burnett Children’s Center after complaining of breathing problems.

“The teachers weren’t trained in pediatric asthma,” said Anjali’s mother, Natasha Madaris. “I think his death opened the door [for school employees] to realize that other kids have asthma — and the district is making progress.”

But although Madaris as well as city and nonprofit officials say the San Francisco Unified School District is making strides toward creating safe classrooms for children with asthma, it has fallen behind in filing emergency plans for those students, and has not yet claimed grant money to make classroom conditions ideal for asthmatic students.

The San Francisco Board of Education adopted plans in 2003 to make sure all students with asthma have a set of instructions on file in case of an asthma attack. While roughly more than 2,000 parents per year send those instructions to their schools, 275 have been entered into school databases, primarily due to lack of staff to perform data entry, Nath said.

“More than that have asthma,” Nath said. “The fact that we don’t have the data system is preventing us from having a full grasp of the prevalence.”

Bay Area youths age 5 to 17 have the highest asthma rates in the nation — 19.8 percent, compared with 14.2 percent nationwide — according to a 2005 survey from the Centers for Disease Control.

The district also has not claimed grant money for 29 San Francisco schools eligible for asthma-prevention funds under the Williams Settlement, which aims to give students equal access to education, said Karen Cohn, a children’s health manager at the San Francisco Department of Public Health.

Those funds would be used to step up prevention efforts — making sure classroom air filters are changed regularly, that ventilation systems are working, that schools use cleaning products that don’t irritate children’s airways and that animals aren’t kept in school, Nath said.

One significant improvement, however, was the district’s February hiring of a new part-time coordinator, who will train teachers, help write grant proposals and identify asthma risks in city classrooms, Cohn said.

Youth asthma facts

The breathing disorder affects children at school and inside the home.

» Asthma accounts for more than 14 million total school absences

» Asthma is the most common chronic condition among children

» 44 percent of all asthma hospitalizations are for children

» Asthma is the No. 3 cause of hospitalization for children

» The Asthma-related death rate for children under 19 has increased almost 80 percent since 1980.

Source: Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

April 28, 2008 at 4:58 PM

Special-education students aim to excel on state exams

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
April 18, 2008

SAN FRANCISCO — When autistic 9-year-old Audrey Norton took her first California Standards Test last year, she needed to take it throughout several days, with a blank sheet of paper covering half of the booklet so she wouldn’t get confused.

“It took a long time, and she gets really tired — I thought maybe we don’t want to put her through this again,” said Audrey’s mother, Rachel Norton, a member of the district’s Citizens Advisory Council for Special Education. “I didn’t feel my daughter’s scores reflected her true abilities.”

Soon, parents won’t have a choice. By 2010, special-education students will be required to take a version of the CST called the California Modified Assessment — and their scores will count toward schools’ state and federal progress under No Child Left Behind, according to Don Kilmer with the California Department of Education’s assessment division.

With the mandatory testing comes a host of modifications so that it more accurately reflects their abilities, according to Kilmer.

At the end of this month, San Francisco students will begin taking the CST; this year, some special-education students will also take the test, as the San Francisco Unified School District has joined other districts in administering the CMA test on a voluntary basis, earlier than its 2010 mandate.

Roughly 350 special-education students in third through fifth grades will participate, according to Robert Maass, supervisor of assessment for the district. By 2010, Maass expects that 1,800 SFUSD students will take the test.

Modifications are necessary because disabled students, such as dyslexic or autistic children, can find the CST long and confusing, according to Maass.

California historically offered optional modifications to the CST; those will be included in the CMA, Kilmer said.

“This provides access to a population of students … who are not being effectively tested,” Kilmer said. “Because it’s more accessible, we expect their percent correct to increase.”

Like Norton, some special-education students have participated in standardized state tests, but their scores haven’t counted toward school and district totals, Kilmer said.

Creating a modified and mandatory test for special-education students may help districts who have faced federal penalties because they don’t have 95 percent of their students participating in exams, according to Kilmer.

It remains to be seen how the CMA will affect special-education students’ scores, or the scores of their schools.

“Scores for students receiving special-education services tend to be lower than the group as a whole,” Maass said. “I would expect that, if in fact the CMA is an appropriate test for the student, … the scores would go up.”

This story originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

April 18, 2008 at 8:42 PM

Drug sales targeted near Lincoln

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
March 28, 2008

Police at Taraval Station have been cracking down on drug peddling near Abraham Lincoln High School, a recurring issues that has spiked again in recent months.

Officers have arrested or cited four suspects who were carrying marijuana, most of them attempting to sell the drug on the streets surrounding the high school, according to police reports.

Two adults were arrested on Quintara Street in late January and mid-February, and a 15-year-old was arrested March 5 at the corner of 22nd Avenue and Taraval Street. Another teen was cited March 6 for marijuana possessionat Lincoln, according to Sgt. Neville Gittens.

Drugs are not a new problem near the school, neighbors say.

“Most of us have put gates in front of our doors because the kids come up here and smoke their weed in the doorways,” said one man who didn’t want to give his name because he lives close to campus, at 23rd Avenue and Quintara Street.

Police were first tipped off to drug-related activity when neighbors, merchants and school administrators complained about marijuana sales near the school, according to police Capt. Paul Chignell. Plainclothes officers set up surveillance areas and arrested several dealers, including the teenager on March 5, according to Lt. John Feeney.

Lincoln High School Principal Ron Pang said he has been vocal about the need to continue the surveillance because he wants to make sure dealers aren’t preying on students. He also assured parents that their children are safe.

“This is not an issue specific to Lincoln,” San Francisco Unified School District spokeswoman Gentle Blythe said. “It’s something all high schools need to work with police on.”

Although police say they believe they have caught several prime suspects, “this is in no way an end [to the issue],” Feeney said, adding that high-school students provide a steady stream of customers. “When you take someone down like that, there’s usually someone to fill in behind them.”

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

March 28, 2008 at 1:52 AM

Summer lunch program going hungry

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by Beth Winegarner
Staff Writer
March 27, 2008

San Francisco will dig into its own pockets this summer to provide healthy lunches and snacks for children who might not otherwise eat – even though federal reimbursements are supposed to cover the cost.

During the summer months, more than 100 children eat lunch each day at the Visitacion Valley Boys and Girls Club. Many of them wouldn’t otherwise get a midday meal, according to site manager Shalom Kimble.

“Their parents are low-income, and having to feed them that third meal was breaking them,” Kimble said. “When they’re fed, they have more stamina, there’s less fighting and they’re happier.”

The city’s Department of Children, Youth and Families serves more than 200,000 lunches each summer, plus year-round snacks, in recreation centers and programs throughout the city. To pay for those meals, the department receives a receives a $2.75 reimbursement per meal from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, according to spokeswoman Jill Fox.

The USDA increases its school lunch reimbursement, which also goes to summer lunch programs like DCYF’s, to keep up with the cost of living, according to department spokeswoman Jean Daniel. It was $2.56 per meal in 2006, and $2.64 per meal in 2007.

“The law says that payments shall equal the full cost of food service operation, including obtaining, preparing and serving food,” Daniel said.

However, at San Francisco prices, that barely covers the cost of food, leaving a $141,028 shortfall, spokeswoman for the department. Kitchen staff with the San Francisco Unified School District prepare and serve the meals, and they have to be paid, Fox said.

The DCYF will compensate this year by pulling money from the Children’s Fund, a property-tax set-aside approved by voters in 1991 that guarantees money for city youth programs, Fox said. However, if the USDA’s reimbursement went farther, that money could be used for other initiatives, she added.

In order to qualify for the federal reimbursement, lunches must meet nutritional standards set by the USDA, which include low-fat, balanced meals rather than high-fat, sugar-laced foods, according to Fox.

“The cost of all commodities has gone sky-high in the past 18 months,” due to higher fuel prices and other factors, according to Dana Woldow, co-chair of the San Francisco Unified School district’s student nutrition and physical activity committee.

“San Francisco cafeteria workers are the highest paid in California, and probably the world, because it is expensive to live here — you can see why the meal program runs a deficit,” Woldow said.

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

March 27, 2008 at 5:17 PM

School turns into oasis for homeless students

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
March 25, 2008

SAN FRANCISCO — Five-year-old Nikole Rogers gets ready for kindergarten every weekday morning, just like any other student. But, unlike most of her peers, she gets ready for school at one of San Francisco’s homeless shelters.

Nikole and her mom, Cynthia Elliott, left Modesto eight months ago after a series of home invasions in which the girl witnessed assaults on both her parents, Elliott said. They moved to San Francisco’s Hamilton Family Center, which houses up to 50 families — including as many as 50 school-age children — according to program coordinator Audrey Muntz.

In January, 1,700 of the San Francisco Unified School District’s 55,000 students were defined as homeless, according to district spokeswoman Gentle Blythe — compared with about 95,000 homeless schoolchildren statewide.

“I was afraid at first, not knowing where I was going to lay my daughter’s head,” said Elliott, who immediately enrolled Nikole at John Muir Elementary. “She’s been stressed out, but she enjoys the other kids and doing her homework.”

A number of living situations, ranging from trailer parks and “doubling up” with another family to living in cars or abandoned buildings, qualify a student as homeless, Blythe said. However, the majority call San Francisco’s shelters home.

School life can be anadjustment process for any student, but for children who are homeless, it often offers the only piece of stability in their lives, according to Muntz. The McKinney-Vento Education Assistance Improvement Act, passed by Congress in 2001, makes it easier for school-age children to achieve that stability.

Under the law, students who become homeless are required to enroll in school within 48 hours, and can do so without having to prove residency or show a birth certificate right away, Muntz said. In addition, the act provides school districts with funds to purchase backpacks, uniforms and other school supplies for homeless students, said Tatum Wilson, families, youth and transition liaison for the district.

This year, the district has received $137,000 in state funds for transportation and administrative services for homeless families, $165,000 in federal funds for tutoring and supplies, and $150,000 over three years for additional tutoring services. But it doesn’t come close to covering all the costs, Wilson said.

But many who work with these students say it’s worth the cost.

“School can be so amazing for a homeless child,” Muntz said. “It’s a great way to learn life skills, and hopefully get the self-confidence they need to never become homeless as adults.”

This story originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

March 25, 2008 at 8:46 PM