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Teachers Help Identify Homeless Students

Updated: Monday, February 4 2013, 10:37 AM EST

Chase High School science teacher Jill Francis sees it at least once a semester.

"It may be that they're struggling to stay awake in class," she said. "Or you see a change in their academic performance so their grades start sliding, you may see missing assignments."

A student that is struggling at home and - sometimes - has become homeless.

"Once you get to know them as people, it's really easy to tell when things aren't right," Francis said.

Since the McKinney Vento Homeless Homeless Education Assistance Act was passed in 2001, for teachers like Francis, it's become part of the job: recognizing the signs and getting those students that may be out of a home, counted.

"Teacher communication," said Francis, who has kept tabs on students as what she considers to be part of her job, since she started teaching. "You can talk to another teacher and say 'Have you noticed things in your classroom?'"

The law requires schools across North Carolina to keep a list of homeless kids in classrooms.

"We have outreach specialists, we have school counselors, schools social workers, and so we monitor daily," said Rutherford County Assistant Administrator Barbara Parker. Parker says that, once a child is identified as being homeless, that's when the school can refer the students to the resources available, which, oftentimes, Parker says, the students has already gotten involved with.

Every year the number of homeless children in the district has grown - now at 345 - and the district have taken note.

"I don't really know honestly that programs sprang up, but they became more focused [since McKinney-Vento]" Parker says, adding that the resources are now better utilized because they know exactly who needs tutoring, mentoring, school supplies or extra support.

The law requires schools to count the students, but when you see the numbers, how can you not help?

"It's difficult when you hear an eight-year-old knows when food stamps will come. That that day is a good day," said Amy Revis, a coordinator for the local chapter of the non-profit group Communities in Schools.

The district has come to rely heavily on the group, which, among other services, mentors students, and sends food, supplies and backpacks home.

"You can almost see the relief on their face when they get the backpacks and they're able to go to class and they have everything they need to succeed," said Revis.

"Compared to when I began teaching, all of the supports that are in place - I don't feel as helpless as I once did," says Francis, who has been teaching for 15 years.

Click here to find out more about Communities in Schools.

Follow Ashlea Surles on Twitter @AshleaSurles

Teachers Help Identify Homeless Students

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