When COVID-19 shut down the world in March of 2020, every industry was affected in different ways. The education industry - from Pre-Kindergarten through Doctoral Programs - made a shift from in-person to online learning. But how did this shift affect students experiencing homelessness who may rely on their school systems for more than just education?
In the San Francisco public school district, around 2,200 students are experiencing homelessness. During the pandemic, a shift to online learning may prove difficult for those who do not have a stable home environment or live in a shelter. The San Francisco public schools did not begin their phased reopening plan until April of 2021. With over a year of online learning, what resources did San Francisco provide these students, and what more could they have done?
One of the resources that schools may provide students is their next meal. Over 30 million children nationwide participate in school meal programs on a day-to-day basis. With school closures, these students may go hungry. Meal Pick Up is a program that the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) implemented that allowed students to receive these meals while not going hungry. These meals are free “grab and go” meals for students receiving free and reduced lunch and could be picked up at various locations throughout the city. Some schools even offered food banks for families to pick up food.
Chromebooks are provided to students who need them for distance learning. The district can also provide some hot spots for students who do not have wifi access to do their work. Offline access to Chromebooks is accessible, especially for students who do not always have wifi access. If a student wants, they can make edits to schoolwork and other documents on their Google Drive wherever they want to, and it will sync to their drive whenever they have wifi access next. This is an excellent resource for youth experiencing homelessness.
Tech 1-on-1 help is provided for students who are struggling to access their technological needs. These 1-on-1 sessions can help provide extra guidance for students struggling to comprehend how to use their technology to its potential. This can be helpful for both students and parents, as some parents may not know how to use technology provided by the school district.
Family Wellness Resources specifically for students experiencing homelessness were slim on the SFUSD website. After clicking on a link to a resource, the page that was redirected was an error. There were a few other resources, but they also assumed that the student experiencing homelessness had a parental figure to help them navigate the resource. There could be many more resources or redirections explicitly geared at students and their parents to improve this page.
Many of the resources online were not geared directly toward students experiencing homelessness, but SFUSD offered various options that may help these students adjust to distance learning. The school district begins full-time in-person classes again in August for all students. However, students experiencing homelessness still must be at the forefront of administrators’ thoughts when returning to school in person.