Today was one of the days that I was in charge of Phoebe, Noddy and Finch. Phoebe was absent, so I just had to worry about Noddy and Finch. One thing about Finch is that he is always hungry, but he only likes to eat certain things. Apples are his favorite food. He also loves chicken nuggets in the school lunch. I was talking about this with another one of the aides, who worked at the school last year as well. The school lunch today was chicken nuggets, tater tots, and apples, and I mentioned that Finch was going to be really happy about that... sure enough, he ate his whole apple, all of his chicken, and most of Grebe's chicken. He was trying to wrap up his last piece of chicken in a napkin to put in his pocket, and I stopped him because keeping chicken in your pocket for the remainder of the school day doesn't seem like that great of an idea. Plus it is against the rules to remove cafeteria food from the cafeteria. But I did notice that the aides took any extra apples from the kids' lunches and smuggled them back to the classroom.
The aide I was talking with mentioned that, last year, Finch was a new student. His mother had left the family, so Finch and his older siblings were living with their dad, and then they somehow got evicted from where they were living, so the dad and children were living in their car. The aide told me Finch would come to school hungry every day. He did qualify for free school lunch and snacks, so he wasn't going to starve, but because he is such a picky eater (related to his autism... sensory issues and all) they couldn't always get him to eat what was provided. So Finch would often be hungry and weepy and listless. That is why the teacher and aides started smuggling leftover apples from the cafeteria whenever possible... to feed them to Finch.
Later on, during Free Time, Finch was playing with those little blocks that have letters and numbers on them. Finch loves letters, particularly the letter I for some reason. I was watching him stack up the blocks to make a tower as tall as he could get it. When the tower would fall, he'd calmly start building it again. I asked him, "Do you have blocks at home, Finch?" Finch just shrugged, but the teacher replied, "I don't think he has much of anything at home."
When it was time to clean up, Finch tried to put some of the alphabet blocks in his pocket, and then in his backpack. I told him they had to stay at school, and he started to cry.
The school where I work is in a somewhat poor area... seven out of the eleven kids in my class are on free lunches. But it doesn't really matter. At every school where I've worked or student taught, there was at least one child who was, or had been, homeless.
When I was an aide at a special education school, there was a second grader named Victor, who joined our class in the middle of the school year and won all of our hearts because he was so sweet. A few months after he came, he suddenly disappeared. We heard from the social worker that Victor's mother had called her to ask for help because of a domestic violence situation, and she had helped the family get into a shelter, but it was in a different county so they'd had to move. Besides, it would have been dangerous for Victor to continue going to our school, since the abuser (his stepdad I think) would know where to find him.
The next school year, a second grader named Timmy joined our class. He was an adorable kid with shaggy blond hair and giant blue eyes, who had autism and was nonverbal. We never knew much about him at all. At the time, I had recently been homeless myself, and sometimes still hung out at the day shelter, where I used to participate in an arts and crafts group. One day when I was there, I saw Timmy there with his mother! It turned out that they were homeless too. Then a few weeks later, Timmy's mother came to get him from school early, and said that he wouldn't be back... they'd gotten into a transitional housing program in another town and had to leave right away.
During my first part of student teaching, which was more of an internship thing, I was in a preschool class for at-risk children. One brother and sister, 3 and 4 years old, had to be taken to the nurse any time they had any sort of bruise when they came to school, because their father was physically abusive and DCFS was monitoring the household. (The dad wasn't supposed to be living with them, which was why they weren't in foster care, but if we reported any suspicious injuries, DCFS would have assumed the dad was back in their lives.) Another kid, a surly 3-year-old boy who barely ever talked, and who actually growled like a wild animal, was known to be severely neglected by his parents. And then there were the two brothers, 5 and 3 years old, who were homeless and living in a motel room with their parents and two infant sisters.
During my actual student teaching, I was in a fourth and fifth grade special education class, and one girl started telling us that the following Friday would be her last day of school. She wasn't always the most truthful kid on earth, so the teacher called her mother to find out what was going on. It turned out they were being evicted that Friday and were going to be living in a shelter. The social worker helped the mother arrange it so that the girl and her four siblings could get transportation from the shelter to the school, so they could keep attending.
And last school year, when I was an aide, the little boy I worked with had been raised, for the first six years of his life, by a mother who was addicted to crack... although he did spend a year living with his father, who was also addicted to crack. When I met him, he had just been taken by DCFS and was living with foster parents, and was undergoing intensive, in-home therapy because of the things he had been through, including witnessing a lot of domestic violence.
It seems to me that, in just about any school, there is probably at least one child in every grade level who is or has been homeless or lives in a similar type of crisis situation. If you have children, your kids probably know kids who are going through this.
I don't really know what the point of this blog post is. I mean, unless your child is close friends with a child who is homeless, and the child actually tells you what is going on, there is not much you can do about it. But it is sad, isn't it? That there are so many homeless children, that they can be sitting right next to your child in school, and you wouldn't even know it? I wish there was more we could do.