South Lake Tahoe school district addresses increased homeless, foster care students (updated)
Tahoe Daily Tribune’s Dec. 2 article “Schools address increase in homeless, foster care students” incorrectly referenced Bernadette Santana as a member of CASA of El Dorado County. She is a member of CSEA, or California School Employees Association.
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE — The number of homeless kids and those in foster care are up in the Lake Tahoe Unified School District, and efforts are being made to address it.
According to superintendent James Tarwater, the school district serves 300 students who are considered homeless. Another 44 students are in foster care homes.
“That’s a pretty alarming number for such a small district like ours,” Tarwater said to the Tahoe Daily Tribune.
Approximately 3,988 students are enrolled in the district. About 2,370 students, or 60 percent, qualify for free or reduced-cost lunches.
Tarwater said the district recently enhanced a position for a foster/homeless student advocate. The advocate works with students who meet requirements under the McKinney Vento Homeless Assistance Act.
The McKinney Vento program was passed by the federal government in 1987, and provides money to local agencies to address homeless issues. In the school district’s case, it receives $34 from California for each student that qualifies for the program.
The advocate position will be full time, up from a part-time position in years past.
In addition, the advocate’s role will expand into the elementary schools. In the past, it was focused only on South Tahoe High School and South Tahoe Middle School.
Tarwater said that homeless students are classified as those who don’t live in traditional settings. That includes either multiple families living in an apartment, families living in hotels or those who live in vehicles.
Bernadette Santana, a member of the California School Employees Association (CSEA) called it a good move. CSEA is the organization representing classified employees in the school district.
“We can certainly see that an underlying theme for the district this year is support for its students,” Santana said at a Nov. 17 school board meeting. She added that CSEA partnered with the school district in an effort to combine resources at a time when government support was diminishing.
“CSEA is proud to work with the district to increase the hours for this position to provide this support for students,” Santana said.
Tarwater explained that expanding the advocate’s role in elementary schools is a good way to address students’ problems early on.
“Sometimes it’s helping to provide services, or helping the families in terms of where to go for support,” Tarwater said.
In addition to tapping into local resources, the new full-time advocate will work with students to improve their academic achievements.
“What’s interesting is that a lot of these kids are resilient despite their circumstances, and they want to succeed,” Tarwater said. “We helped one student get a work permit and a job because she wants to graduate and do well. She’s a fighter.”
The school district suspects that the increase in the number of homeless students and those in foster care may be due to the economy or jobs.
“Jobs are a critical piece of this,” Tarwater said.
Many of the students might either come from a single-income household or suffer as a result of seasonal jobs. Other factors include possible drug use in the home or inability to care for a family.
Tarwater added that the school district saw an increase in students who came from outside the area in part because of the level of education the schools provide. Those include the Career and Technical Education programs offered at South Tahoe High.
“We think parents are trying to provide for their kids in terms of education that pushes for career and college,” Tarwater said.