Sunday August 26, 2018

Oklahoma City has fair share of homeless students

A mom walked her child in to school at an Oklahoma City Public School last week and the child candidly shared that they’d slept in their car and that is why he was late. This isn’t a made for television movie or something that only happens in other cities … this really happened and happens quite often in our schools. More than 3,000 Oklahoma City Public Schools students identified as homeless last year. Homelessness causes children to be tardy, absent, hungry and suffering from anxiety and depression.

Other types of adverse childhood experiences are prevalent within our schools. More than 90 percent of our students live in poverty and many live in a cycle of poverty, meaning their parents grew up the same way. Recent assessments have shown that one in four of our kids have had at least one parent in their life that is, or has been incarcerated. Hundreds of our children are in the foster care system. Many of our children live in fear of coming home to an empty house after having a parent deported. Substance and alcohol abuse, as well as domestic violence occur in too many households where children are present.

This reality must be addressed as part of the going forward plan for Oklahoma City Public Schools and every member of the community can play a part in supporting the fundamental services that our children desperately need. Partnerships are critical to addressing these needs and the experts will need the community’s support to make it happen. The Oklahoma City County Health Department will open Southern Oaks in a few months next to Parmelee Elementary School. This facility will provide wrap around services to students and families in the area, including a clinic, mental health services, on-site community health workers, nutrition services and many other avenues for family well-being. This is a true community school model and has pulled in many partnerships as it has come to fruition. While not feasible to have a facility at every school, the concept of hubs is one that must be explored. The Oklahoma City Public Schools Compact’s Mental Health Taskforce is developing a plan to better utilize social services within our schools. Both of these examples prove that working together is the way to make a true difference and build a new future for our children.

As Superintendent Sean McDaniel so eloquently stated in his recent State of the Schools address, “If our kids can still get up and come to school every day … in the midst of so many challenges … the least we can do is meet them at the door with the tools they need to have hope and envision a future they can be proud of … proud of themselves and proud of this city.”

At the same school, on the same day where the little boy came in late after sleeping in a car, there was a group of children at recess running joyfully to reach a tree and an imaginary “force field” that would keep them safe. It is our responsibility to provide a true force field of safety for the children of Oklahoma City Public Schools. These children are ours.

Read Mary Mélon’s original NewsOK editorial.

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