“Students are not their situation.” These words from Michele Starkey reverberate throughout this podcast. Students come to us in a wide variety of situations—many of which are out of their immediate control. They also all come to us with assets that we should leverage in the process of helping them grow. In that light, school systems need to work together and with families to provide the necessary support that students need to be successful. This often starts with basic needs, like reliable food and shelter, and grows from there toward academic, personal, and career success.
In this episode, we gain insights from our guest, Michele Starkey. Michele serves as the Title I McKinney-Vento Liaison in her district, and she serves students and families in need, often connecting them to support services that are available in the area. Michele shares her experiences in this role and offers insights into programs and services that are available in nearly every district. Being aware of these opportunities and supports is a good first step in helping students and families in need.
When we nurture a child’s whole being, we open doors to endless possibilities.
Susan Wright, founder of Nurtured Inspirations
The following resources are available on AVID Open Access to explore this topic in more depth:
- Connect Positively With Families (article)
- Establish a Feedback and Progress Monitoring System (article)
- Making Connections With Families (podcast episode)
- Supporting Families During the Pandemic: Coping With Stress, Anxiety, and Grief (podcast episode)
Supporting Students Where They Are
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a foundational concept in many education programs. In order for students to reach the top of the pyramid (self-actualization), they must first meet their more foundational needs (physiological, safety, love and belonging, and esteem needs). Because no two students come to us in the same place, we need to be flexible and meet each student’s unique needs.
Throughout our conversation, we explore the many avenues available for supporting students and families at all levels: classroom, school, district, and community. Regardless of your role in the system, you have the potential to make a difference. Ask yourself, “What am I empowered to do from where I sit?” Together, we can make a difference. The following are a few highlights from our conversation:
- Caregivers: Rather than using the terms “parent” or “guardian,” it’s helpful to say “caregiver” instead because families differ widely, and different dynamics play into who cares for our students. Caregivers may be parents, siblings, grandparents, other relatives, or even family friends.
- Classroom Support: It’s important for teachers to become aware of the support available to their students and families. Since there is no one-size-fits-all approach, knowing the range of options will help connect students with the most appropriate support services to meet their needs. Two things that all classroom teachers can do from the start of the year is keep an open line of communication with families and get to know their students in order to learn what type of day they usually experience outside of school.
- School Support: Schools often organize a variety of community outreach experiences. These may include community cafés, literacy projects, coffee and doughnuts with principals, watchdog programs, and more. While parents need to be engaged to take advantage of these opportunities, schools also need to reach out and make sure that families are aware of the options available.
- District Support: Districts may host roundtable discussions or establish committees that build partnership capacities between the district and local families. Committees may include advisory, career and technical education, curriculum, diversity/equity/inclusion, and more. All of these committees benefit from having local family voices represented.
- Community Support: While school-sponsored opportunities often make up the core of these connectors, families can also organize on their own. Groups like parent–teacher organizations (PTOs) can begin with a grassroots effort. Schools and families have a mutual responsibility to reach out to each other.
- Defining Homelessness: Support services often avoid the word “homeless” because it means so many different things, and those who are homeless often don’t label themselves this way. Homelessness may include families living in shelters, motels/hotels, and cars/RVs, as well as those living with other families and those who are unsheltered.
- “Students Are Not Their Situation”: This is a cornerstone statement. Students come to us with very little control over what their home situation is. We need to recognize their assets and build from there. Part of this is being trauma informed, and another part is being creative about how we address barriers (finance, shelter, food, documentation).
- One Good Day at a Time: Michele stresses that we are not “fixers;” we are educators. However, we can all play a part in giving each student a good day. She says that you can always “give them one good day.” If you can give them one good day, you can give them one good week. One good week becomes a month. You can stack these things up.
If you are listening to the podcast with your teaching team or would like to explore this topic more deeply, here are guiding questions to prompt your reflection:
- What are the needs of the students in your classroom and district?
- What services are available in your school or district for students and families in need, and how can you find out about additional services available to your students and families?
- What can you do in your own classroom to support students and families?
- What community groups are present in your area to help students and families?
- In what ways can you give students “one good day”?
Extend Your Learning
- Definitions of Homelessness (SOAR)
- The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act (National Center for Homeless Education)
- Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) (U.S. Department of Education)
- Supporting Families to Support Students (ASCD)