Many children living in Barry Farm make the short walk to Savoy Elementary, but many more are truant and simply do not report to school when they should. This is partly why Savoy is one of the city’s lowest-performing schools. In 2012, Savoy ranked worse than nearly 90 percent of elementary schools in the District. Reading and math proficiency scores are well below the District’s average, and since the proposed redevelopment of Barry Farm in 2013, many students have moved or changed schools. And the lack of stability that comes with these frequent moves makes learning tough.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
McCarver Elementary School in Tacoma, Wash., is setting the stage for progress. The Tacoma Housing Authority (THA) and Tacoma Public Schools (TPS) have collaborated to start a program that benefits homeless and at-risk children—and early results are promising.
Prior to the collaboration, McCarver’s student turnover rates were very high, and the school served a large population of homeless and low-income families. The school also felt the effects of an unstable learning environment, with the combined number of mid-year withdrawals and enrollments exceeding the total enrollment of the school. To combat this, TPS and THA partnered to create the McCarver Elementary School Special Housing Project Program, which addresses the housing and education needs of students at the school.
The program provides 50 households with housing choice vouchers, which provide tenant-based rental assistance to public housing residents. The vouchers are paired with service coordination, expectations of parent-school engagement, economic self-sufficiency goals, and a requirement for children to remain enrolled at McCarver. These goals allow for low-income or homeless students to have access to quality education and stable housing. Parents are also engaged in a way that helps them to maintain economic self-sufficiency, so they spend less time struggling to attain stable housing and they have a greater ability to help their children reach their educational goals.
Since beginning the program, data show that students in the program outperform other homeless and low-income children in Tacoma Public Schools by a significant margin. What is obvious is that the sense of stability the McCarver Elementary School Housing Project Program provides to its students helps them to learn better and achieve more.
The McCarver project is a great example of how stable housing increases educational achievement. With more time, data, and research, it’ll be interesting to see if more schools in Tacoma and across the country adopt similar programs.
Radiah Shabazz works in marketing and communications at the National Housing Conference. You can reach her via email or Twitter.