Early Childhood Education Today - Ninth Edition
Holy Family Home and Shelter, Inc., which opened on February 3, 1989, enables homeless children to attend school, the once constant in their young and troubled lives. Children living at Holy Family attend the local schools in Willimantic, Connecticut. However, if they wish to stay in their own school, The Education of Students in Homeless Situations in the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act along with the McKinney-Venta Act that was reauthorized in 2001, has a provision that transportation must be provided to the school of origin. Keep in mind that the shelter is merely temporary housing not a change of address.
In August of 1993, Holy Family Home and Shelter began an education program called THE KEY [Developed by Miriam Stannard Epstein]. This program did not replace the public school curriculum, but was an enhancement in helping the children with their education needs. One problem that was prevalent among the school-age children was homework - when to do it, how to do it, and who could help them. Our plan included a preschool, toddler time and an after-school tutoring program. Tutors, students, and professors from the University of Connecticut and Eastern Connecticut State University, have been a vital force in the after-school program, Once the children in the shelter regained their educational footing and had the additional help from the shelter, grades improved social attitudes changed for the better, and the children be-came less stressed.
In order for people to free themselves from the world of poverty and homelessness they need a key to open the door to prosperity and homeownership. This key is education - thus, the name for the education program. In the evolution of the program the name changed from THE KEY to The Holy Family Home and Shelter Education Program, keeping in mind that education is still the key that unlocks the door to personal freedom.
Although teachers at Holy Family may change from time to time, the essence of the program does not. Our newest teacher, Maria Prewitt has a wealth of international classroom experience. As a result of teaching a variety of ethnic and indigenous children she was able to expand on the education program over the summer months. Holy Family's education program does not run on the local academic calendar, but provides for year-round learning.
When there. is no school, the children engage in educational hands on projects, such as making shadow puppets or creating holiday pastries. Field trips to local historical museums or state parks help to broaden the children's educational vistas.
The children who come Into homeless shelters carry a huge burden of abuse, neglect, and nightmarish experiences. Often we encounter children with behavioral problems. Sometimes these problems can he addressed between the school system and the education coordinator. At other times it is necessary to hospitalize the child for his/her general well-being and protection. In the Windham area there is an out-patient hospital program for children, called the Joshua Program. This program has counseling as well as an education component.
The creation of a safe, healthy, loving atmosphere for the families is the mission of Holy Family Home and Shelter. We try to bring out the best in our children, highlight their shills and talents, and build their self-esteem as op- portunities arise.
Validating a child's existence is done with birthday parties and special holiday events. Occasionally a group will come and celebrate the day with the children. However, if that is not possible, the Shelter staff makes sure the day is recognized. Gifts are given and cake and ice cream are part of the celebration. The Education Program and celebrations all go into making the stay in the shelter less traumatic for the children.
Another component of the education program am is an outreach program to neighborhoods where former families now live. This program Books to the Streets, developed by Miriam Epstein, a Holy Family volunteer, brings new and gently used books, bookmarks, and book buddies (small stuffed animals) to our former resident children and other children in the neighborhoods, This program continues to grow. Volunteers inscribe each book with a positive reading message and then go out to the various neighborhoods and distribute the books to the children.
Another program, Books to Dreams, also started by Epstein, brings books, book buddies, and bookmarks into the soup kitchens and shelters in all of eastern Connecticut. At this time, Books to Dreams spans the state from the Rhode Island border to Hartford. Children who would not otherwise have their own books to read and keep now have the start of their own libraries. Each shelter and soup kitchen is provided with a book box to allow parents to choose books for their young children, and for older children to choose what interests them.
Contributed by Sister M. Peter Bernard, SCMC, director: public relations and volunteers, Holy Family Home and Shelter, Willimantic, Connecticut.
Books to Dreams, Inc. is a 501(3)c Non-profit Organization founded in 1996