When Nearly Half of the Students Are Homeless?

Dear Commons Community,

On June 6th, the New York Times had an article on P.S. 188 on the Lower Eastside of Manhattan,  where last year 47% of the students were homeless.   Here is a an excerpt:

“At Public School 188, on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, students churn relentlessly in and out. Administrators estimate that nearly half the students enrolled at the school do not last the full year. And how could it be otherwise?

Last school year, 47 percent of the students there were homeless. The percentage was higher at only two schools in New York City.

The number of homeless people in the city has never been larger, and to spend months in the classrooms of P.S. 188 is to see that this crisis does not play out just in the grown-up world of streets and shelters. It is lived in lunchrooms and libraries, in science labs and math classes, or while perched at a tiny desk trying to learn to read.

At P.S. 188, teachers and staff members grapple with problems that stretch the very idea of what a school is supposed to be. Their efforts are visible even in the school’s supply closets, where toothbrushes and deodorant are stored along with pencils and paper. A school like P.S. 188 strives to be social worker, advocate, therapist and even Santa Claus.

Shoes, for example, are not usually on the list of things a school provides. But P.S. 188 distributed hundreds of pairs this school year. It also gave away backpacks and holiday presents, refurbished computers and uniforms. It is installing a washer and dryer for families whose children come to school without clean clothes.

The staff struggles to improve test scores while the students navigate foster care and shelters, and not being able to go back home. And on any given day, the principal of P.S. 188, Suany Ramos, might welcome two or three new students and watch one disappear.

“They call me the beggar principal,” Ms. Ramos said. “Everywhere we go, I say, ‘I need, I need, I need for my families.’”

The article goes on to mention that P.S. 188 is not the only school that has a large homeless population.  In fact, two other schools have larger percentages of homeless children.  In total, more than 82,000 students in the public schools are homeless according to the NYC Department of Education.

It was also very gratifying to see in the article that one of our Urban Education graduates, Liza Pappas, an education policy analyst now at the NYC’s Independent Budget Office, provided testimony earlier this year to the NYC Council highlighting the plight of these children.

Well-done, Liza!


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