Homelessness in Schools and Society: U of M and Avalon

What do academic success and homelessness have in common? How can Supportive Housing services and educators help increase the academic success of children who have experienced homelessness? Avalon Housing’s Family and Youth Services’ Youth Programming staff and University of Michigan School of Education professors Simona Goldin and Debi Khasnabis have been hard at work over the last 18 months planning a course that looks at these and other questions. The result of our efforts is “Homelessness in Schools and Society”, a U of M class that launched this January. In this course, students will work closely with our Youth Program staff to take a hard look at the intersection of education and poverty, and how we can work together with our local public schools and parents to support Avalon’s youth.

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Ann Arbor Public Schools recognizes the importance of this work and was eager to get on board with our endeavor.  Students from the class have already spent time at STEAM and Eberwhite Elementary schools, observing teachers and kids to gain a better understanding of the real-life, practical work of teaching and learning in public schools. Now, they will spend eight weeks working directly with our Youth Program staff in Avalon Housing’s two after school programs, at our Carrot Way and Pauline Boulevard community centers.  The students will observe the ways that Avalon Housing serves and supports children and their communities, while spending time in class learning about the effects of homelessness on children and the way it impacts their learning.

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Students will also focus on in-depth projects addressing authentic problems our residents may face, across a number of different areas: schooling, community support, advocacy, law and policy. We are grateful to have our partners at the University of Michigan’s Family Law Clinic working with us as well, to educate students on various legal and child welfare-related barriers that low income families often face.

Through these experiences, the students will develop understandings of the linkages between work being done in Avalon’s youth programs and in public schools, as well as opportunities for substantive cross-disciplinary and cross-institutional work that can support the needs of our kids. At the end of the semester, students will do presentations to both Avalon and AAPS staff on what they have learned, where they see our greatest strengths in our collaborations and where they see opportunities for growth.  They’ll also share their ideas about how Avalon and the public school systems can collaborate and learn from each other to create a strong support system that moves seamlessly from our schools to our community centers.

If you’d like to learn more about Avalon’s partnership with U of M’s School of Education, or how you can support Avalon’s efforts to end homelessness, please contact us at info@avalonhousing.org.

By Lauren Velez, Family and Youth Services Team Leader