BOE discusses homeless students

Board also weighs additional purchases of room air conditioners

The plight of homeless students, the purchase of additional air conditioners for overheated classrooms, and a pitch to elevate computer gaming to an extracurricular activity were among subjects discussed at a two-hour meeting of the Marietta City Schools board of education meeting Monday night.

Lynn Doebrich, a prevention specialist at Marietta High School, told the board that about 130 students in the district – approximately five percent of the total enrollment – are considered to be homeless.

“This is about students with families who have unreliable shelter, like a car, a tent, being doubled up with somebody else, like a family or friend or just somebody the family knows,” she said. “Homeless people could be sleeping on park benches or under bridges, they could be escaping domestic violence, or like the people whose homes were destroyed by Hurricane Florence, they could be homeless because of a natural disaster. Or, they could be in danger of being homeless, people facing eviction.”

To illustrate Doebrich’s point, curriculum director Jona Hall collected one shoe from each person seated at the board table – board members Mark Duckworth, Russ Garrison, Doug Mallett, Stacy Hall and Bill Hutchinson, along with superintendent Will Hampton and financial officer Frank Antill – and placed the shoes in a box in the center of the board room floor.

The missing shoes appeared to represent the loss and lack of balance of homelessness. Hall also handed each of the group an envelope. They opened the envelopes and read aloud letters in each.

“We had to move out because of bedbugs, and we had to give up our dog Sammy … Homelessness is not who I am, it’s what happened to me … We live in a park because our dad got arrested … My dad died, my mom can’t make enough money, and I just want somebody to talk to … My mom’s boyfriend beat her up real bad, now we live in a shelter, and I can’t have any friends over,” were among the sentences read out.

“These are all comments from students I’ve worked with over the last four years,” Doebrich said.

She offered a long list of challenges faced by the homeless: lack of affordable housing, lack of support and health services, low paying jobs that keep even people who work in poverty, personal hardships, physical and mental illnesses, lack of safety and security and the threat of violence, no place to store possessions, and others.

“Cleanliness and hygiene – where do you wash your clothes, take a shower? Navigating the system: there are a lot of you-have-to-dos in social services,” she said. “You don’t have a mailing address. I had a family that couch-surfed every night for a year, and the mother would go to the post office every day to check for general delivery.”

The impact on education, she said, is obvious: “You can’t focus on your ABCs when you’re hungry and you don’t know where home is from one day to the next.”

After hearing the presentation, board president Mallett said, “What can we do?”

Doebrich said school staff already are doing some things outside their ordinary educational efforts. A teacher, she said, bought a battery for a homeless parent whose vehicle had failed. Operations staff had volunteered to help move furniture for a family that got a home but had no way to move their possessions.

Some children, she said, are termed unaccompanied youth. “The teachers become their parents,” she said.

In other business, the board authorized the purchase of another 30 single-room air conditioners after hearing from operations and transportation director Darrel Prim that installation of the first 30 was in process and appeared to be working well. Prim said five had been installed at Phillips Elementary and another seven at Washington Elementary, with further installations planned for Putnam and Harmar elementaries and Marietta Middle School.

Marietta High School student Isaac Warner asked the board for support in his efforts to establish a club-level e-sports group at the high school. The club, he said, could connect to a national organization setting up a formal network for computer gaming not unlike an athletic association. It could also be linked to similar groups at Marietta College.

“It’s possible to win the school money, even talk to college recruiters,” he said. “I know there has been a lot of skepticism about this, that it would just be a club where kids play video games even more than they already do, but it provides a lot of soft skills, like team work and coordination, and can lead to STEM careers. And it’s a multi-billion dollar business.”

Warner told the board, “It’s like an athletic event for non-athletes.”

He said he was requesting space at the high school to set up an area where e-sports enthusiasts could gather, play and create a camaraderie.

Mallett asked Warner to create a written proposal.

The board also adopted an “articulation of direction” resolution for the coming school year, a task it has been working on for months. The document spells out in detail the board’s tactical intent on five general areas of improvement for the district: safety, security and school environment; classroom learning; social and emotional learning; non-classroom learning; and staffing and finances.

“It’s the board’s job to provide clear direction for administration, and this is our view of the forest versus the trees,” Garrison said. “We are trying to articulate this so that the board can work from clear direction.”

The board is scheduled to hold its next regular monthly meeting at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 22 in the board room of the academic building.