MS. REBECCA SHEIR
We'll move now from the challenges kids face inside D.C. General to the ones they encounter when they leave the shelter for the day and go to school. Many of the children who stay at D.C. General attend Ketcham Elementary School in Southeast D.C. In fact, nearly 30 percent of the student population there is homeless.
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Special correspondent, Kavitha Cardoza, talked with staff about the academic and behavioral difficulties these children experience as well as what's being done to help them succeed.
MS. MAISHA RIDDLESPRIGGER
Good morning Tristan, take your hood off inside.
MS. KAVITHA CARDOZA
Principal Maisha Riddlesprigger stands in the foyer of Ketchum Elementary School at 8:30, every single morning.
Oh, I think it's important to greet families. I think it's important that they see the principal, that they're greeted with a warm face, a good-morning, a hello 'cause you never know what's happened before they come into the school building.
The school is about two miles from D.C. General Shelter. Little children come up to Riddlesprigger for a quick cuddle before they go to class.
Bye. You're gonna be late for school.
She says, many of these children have very unstable lives.
When you're in a homeless shelter -- and there's a lot of things, that as a child, you definitely feel are out of control and -- so as a school, we try to make this a constant.
It isn't obvious which students here are homeless and Julia Zahn, the social worker and homeless liaison at Ketchum, says, that's the schools goal. Students wear uniforms so there are no obvious differences, they have a very structured routine and all follow the same rules.
MS. JULIA ZAHN
For our children, having a sense of belonging in the school, having a place that they know is going to be the same every single day, they know they're going to get their hot meals here, they know that they're going to be able to look like everyone else, knowing what it is that they can expect helps improve their behavior, make growth and gains on those academic tests.
The homeless families struggling with immediate needs, like food and shelter, school is not the first priority. A big challenge for this school is absenteeism, many students come late or sometimes not at all.
MS. CAMILLE TOWNSEND
...step by step and that's the same way you're gonna do your explanation.
Camille Townsend is the fifth grade teacher here. She says poor attendance is a problem and in turn hurts learning.
You know, it's like, Oh, well they're just learning their ABC's or they're just learning how to count, I can teach them how to count at home. But there's a conceptual knowledge, the application that they're learning how to do in school, how to take those skills and link them with science and social studies, and art and music. And they're not getting that.
The University of Chicago study found homeless students were less likely to perform on grade level than classmates who weren't homeless. They were also twice as likely to be identified as needing special education. And a third had been held back a grade, once. All these pressures mean teachers need to make time for more one-on-one instruction. Again, teacher Camille Townsend.
It's definitely worrisome for you, as a teacher, you really have to figure out how do I teach normally for everyone else but then prepare to double back for that child.
Donice, a young mother, lives at D.C. General with her two children, ages one and seven. She's almost two hours late in dropping off her first grader at school.
We missed the first bus and our second bus was a little late. So it took us a little longer to get here.
She says she wants her son to do well in school but it's hard living in a shelter.
Sometimes he has dreams, bad dreams and so he -- he'll want to sleep a little longer. Because I -- just because we -- we don't be as happy, you know. So -- we're not as comfortable, you know, as normal people with a normal household. So it's a little harder because sometimes we have to, you know, we have to find the motivation.
Donice is looking for a job and says the school is a huge help. She gets free bus tokens to bring him to school, staffers organize food drives every month and parents can use computers to search for a job. But most of all, her son is taken care of.
It makes him a little bit more happy because he's around more kids of his age. He -- he loves his teacher.
According to the National Center on Family Homelessness, children who are homeless show three times the rate of emotional and behavioral problems compared to non-homeless children. Teacher Camille Townsend says, it just depends on the child. Some become more responsible while others...
I know a particular student who tends to steal because there's this whole desire like, I -- I want to have my own set of things. There's some students who, I know, hoard food.
Principal Riddlesprigger says she worries most about children who withdraw from everyone.
Friends and peers can be an amazing can be an amazing source of support because they can say, you know, I went through it before, this is what we did when we were at this shelter. But when you have a child that doesn't talk about it and that's bottling up their feelings inside, we never know what's going on and how we can help.
Answering those questions, what's going on and how to help, has become increasingly important at this school. Julia Zahn, the Homeless Liaison at Ketchum, says five years ago, she was helping two students with transportation.
Now I have over 50 homeless students receiving transportation assistance. That tremendous jump has a couple of different potential reasons behind it. One of which is the number of homeless families in the city, is in fact growing. The other pieces, also awareness of the services available.
She opens a large closet...
So this is where we keep our extra supplies. So here's just a few winter coats that are left over from our district (word?) . Over here we have some extra uniform pants, again, backpacks, backpacks, backpacks.
Zahn works with about 20 different community partners.
Just about a month ago, a community partner was coming in to do another project and they said, Is there anything else you need? I knew right away, underwear.
Nicole Lee-Mwandha oversees homeless programs for D.C.'s traditional public school system. She says, Every year, the numbers of homeless children increase.
MS. NICOLE LEE-MWANDHA
Currently, for our homeless student population, is about five percent of the total student population. But in my heart, I strongly believe that there are many, many students that go unidentified because of the stigmas around homelessness.
Lee-Mwandha says, Staff is doing the best they can with the resources they have. But it's still very limited.
And that's the hard part, when homeless liaisons have to select how many families, out of the abundance of families, that they're going to be able to help.
For school staff on the front lines, the fear is the issues these children deal with are much bigger than what can be addressed during the hours they're at school. I'm Kavitha Cardoza.
Partial support for education reporting on WAMU 88.5 comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
In a minute, many people say, D.C. General should go. But what would happen next?
MS. PATTY FUGERE
If the city closes D.C. General down without alternatives, we're gonna have an even greater crisis.
That and more is coming up on "Metro Connection," on WAMU 88.5.
Transcripts of WAMU programs are available for personal use. Transcripts are provided "As Is" without warranties of any kind, either express or implied. WAMU does not warrant that the transcript is error-free. For all WAMU programs, the broadcast audio should be considered the authoritative version. Transcripts are owned by WAMU 88.5 American University Radio and are protected by laws in both the United States and International law. You may not sell or modify transcripts or reproduce, display, distribute, or otherwise use the transcript, in whole or in part, in any way for any public or commercial purpose without the express written permission of WAMU. All requests for uses beyond personal and noncommercial use should be referred to (202) 885-1200.