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RCPS still serving homeless students

The Georgia United Credit Union of Conyers and Star 94 radio station recently teamed up to make a donation of school supplies to needy students in Rockdale County. Pictured, from left, are GUCU representatives Vickie Loper and Lori Merrill; Kathia Brown, the liaison for homeless children and youth in Rockdale County Public Schools; and Teresa Hearn, an RCPS school social worker.

The Georgia United Credit Union of Conyers and Star 94 radio station recently teamed up to make a donation of school supplies to needy students in Rockdale County. Pictured, from left, are GUCU representatives Vickie Loper and Lori Merrill; Kathia Brown, the liaison for homeless children and youth in Rockdale County Public Schools; and Teresa Hearn, an RCPS school social worker.

CONYERS -- Rockdale County Public Schools isn't seeing as many homeless students now as in the past, but any amount of homeless students is too many for school officials.

April Fallon, the director of Community and Student Support at RCPS, reported that when families experience an economic crisis and become homeless, the children face problems related to their health, development, behavior and education.

"Research shows that for every move to a different school, a child falls anywhere from four to six months behind academically," Fallon said. "Teachers face many challenges in addressing the needs of such highly mobile students."

This school year, RCPS identified 129 students as meeting the criteria under the McKinney Vento Homeless Assistance Act, which defines homeless as lacking a fixed, regular, adequate nighttime residence. This can include them living in shelters or hotels.

In the past, RCPS has seen a high of 261 students in one school year, Fallon said. In January, 174 Rockdale students were considered homeless.

The majority of RCPS students classified as homeless lives with at least one adult caretaker, but there are also students who are considered unaccompanied, Fallon said. Unaccompanied youth include young people who have run away from home and/or have been abandoned by their parents or guardians.

"The good news is that Rockdale is a resourceful community with many who have recognized that homelessness is an issue and embraced the challenge of procuring resources for those who befall these circumstances," said Fallon.

The RCPS liaison for homeless children and youth, Kathia Brown, works closely with RCPS staff and community agencies to provide resources and ensure that homeless students are identified.

She regularly collaborates with the Rockdale Coalition for Children and Families, United Way, Rockdale Emergency Relief, Family Promise of NewRock, Project Renewal, Phoenix Pass, Rockdale County Department of Family and Children's Services and the Garden of Gethsemane Homeless Shelter in Newton County to help families in need so that the impact of homelessness is reduced for students and stability is maintained, Fallon said.

Earlier this year, RCPS officials brought in Dr. Eric Jensen, author of "Teaching with Poverty in Mind," to meet with hundreds of interested teachers, school administrators and central office staff in a four-day professional learning seminar dealing with students and poverty.

In addition to the homeless student population, RCPS also deals with students living in poverty. Currently, 63 percent of RCPS students are eligible for free and reduced lunch.

An estimated 1.6 million youth in the United States are homeless for at least one night each year, with many staying on the streets or in emergency shelters.

"It is a growing issue that requires collaboration among school systems and communities," Fallon said.

This past week, RCPS received school supply donations from the Georgia United Credit Union of Conyers and Star 94 radio station for RCPS students since this week is national Homeless Awareness Week. Fallon added that RCPS also has received school supply donations at the beginning of the school year through the Day of Connections community event that also helped needy students in the county.