William & Mary

W&M professor talks about helping homeless schoolchildren

According to statistics provided by the Department of Education, the number of homeless students in public schools across the nation has doubled since before the last recession. In Virginia alone, there are over 18,000 enrolled students identified as homeless.

Patricia Popp, state coordinator of Project HOPE-Virginia recently sat down with William & Mary News to discuss the issue of student homelessness, something that must be addressed in order to have a better future for all, she said.  

“We are talking about our most vulnerable population,” Popp said. “Our children.”

In 1987, the federal government created the McKinney-Vento Act, which requires every school district to provide homeless students equal access to a public education. 

It is currently estimated that there are more than 1.1 million students in the United States defined as homeless. The categories include “sheltered,” “unsheltered,” “doubled-up,” and "hotel/motel." Students in these categories are at times difficult to identify, Popp said. They feel embarrassed and will be reluctant to speak about it.

{{youtube:medium|b2mYian55Qc, How to identify homeless school students}}

Homelessness can hinder a child’s academic, social and physical development, said Popp. Being a homeless student can also bring about stressors that other students will not have.

Homeless students are more likely to score poorly in reading, math and spelling, Popp said.  In addition, homeless students are more likely to be held back a grade in school.

{{youtube:medium|Uqk0WrLajJ0 How homelessness affects school students}}

Project HOPE-Virginia, a collaboration between William & Mary and the Virginia Department of Education, homeless students have seen an improvement in their academics and chances of graduating from high school and going to college. 

{{youtube:medium|NOGiQB2lFU4 Progress made by Project HOPE-Virginia}}

Popp believes that there is hope for students facing homelessness and that school in itself should be conducive for them to become productive citizens.

“The school can be that one safe harbor,” said Popp. “When everything else is in their lives is up in the air.”

Popp is a clinical associate professor in the curriculum and instruction area at William & Mary’s School of Education. She also serves as the liaison for the Virginia Department of Education to the Virginia Department of Social Services for implementation of the educational stability requirements in the Fostering Connections Act. She has co-authored Students on the Move: Reaching and Teaching Highly Mobile Children and Youth, Reading on the Go, Effective Teaching and At-Risk/Highly Mobile Students for the National Center for Homeless Education, and West Meets East for Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.