The two new attendance liaisons at Riverton schools say their jobs have “morphed” since they were hired last year.
“Initially … attendance was our main focus,” family resource advisor James Spradlin told the Riverton City Council last week. “(But) through attendance, we have found there’s reasons these children are not coming to school. …
“Attendance was our look behind the curtain to find these problems that we started attacking.”
The attendance team is actively working on 116 referrals this year involving families with students who are missing 20 percent or more of school, Spradlin said.
“A lot” of those families have multiple children in the district, he said, estimating that “we have probably nearer (to) 300-400 students missing 20 percent or more of school.”
This week, Spradlin sent County 10 the “exact numbers,” which were higher than he had guessed: 421 individual students – more than 17 percent of the total enrolled (2,434) – are currently missing 20 percent or more of school in FCSD 25.
The number for this year “is actually down from 26 percent the last two year,” he added.
“It’s mind-blowing how many students that is right now,” Spradlin told the council. “We’re really trying to tackle that.”
The “legitimate barriers” that keep kids from getting to school range from a lack of transportation to a lack of housing, McKinney-Vento district liaison Danyelle Kuegeler said.
More than 60 students in Fremont County School District 25 have been identified as homeless, she told the council – the highest in the state.
“And we believe that number is far lower than the actual number,” Spradlin added.
He explained that the district is “having trouble identifying these students, because the definition of homelessness is so wide and encompassing that a lot of students and families don’t believe that they’re homeless.”
The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act defines “homeless children and youths” as individuals who “lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence.”
The definition includes children:
-sharing the housing of other persons due to loss of housing, economic hardship, or a similar reason
-living in motels, hotels, trailer parks, or camping grounds due to the lack of alternative adequate accommodations
-living in emergency or transitional shelters
-abandoned in hospitals
-who have a primary nighttime residence that is a public or private place not designed for or ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings
-living in cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, bus or train stations, or similar settings
“Our post-COVID numbers statistically report that one in four students in Fremont County is currently homeless by definition,” Kuegeler said.
Children who qualify under McKinney-Vento are guaranteed transportation to school and a free lunch and breakfast, Spradlin said – but families experiencing homelessness would benefit from additional supports as well.
“This is where a lot of our ask for our funding came from, because of what we are unable to provide,” Kuegeler said.
The Family and Community Support Team at FCSD 25 requested a $10,000 contract for service from the City of Riverton this year.
Spradlin said the money would go toward the creation of a “rapid response” support system for unhoused families that would ultimately “help our children come to school.”
“This money can be used for things that our McKinney-Vento grant cannot,” he said, including food, clothing, bedding, hygiene items, school supplies, utilities, childcare, and other “unexpected roadblocks our individuals and families may encounter.”
“We find people that are homeless (who) have barriers that you wouldn’t even comprehend or think of,” Spradlin said.
For example, Kuegeler said, a family might “finally” save up enough money to cover first and last month’s rent for an apartment, only to find that they need to pay an additional $150 application fee “that could set them back and entire other month.”
“It’s the little things like that, that we are really trying to help with (for) our families,” she said. “Because they’re not going to come to school when they’re worried about where they’ll sleep that night.”
The City of Riverton will make decisions about contracts for services during its regular budgeting process.
The Family and Community Support Team is associated with Circles Fremont County, a program at FCSD 25 that offers “poverty alleviation classes” to local parents and guardians seeking everything from crisis intervention to housing placement, workforce training, and certification programs – along with free dinner and on-site child care for families, Spradlin said.
For more information about Circles Fremont County contact Terri Hays at 856-9407 or [email protected].