By CHENQI GUO
Capital News Service
LANSING – As an 18-year-old high school senior, Haley should be thinking about senior prom and graduation. Instead, she worries about where she’ll sleep at night.
“It would really help to have a job so I could have money to better support myself and I could get a place to live,” she said on the website of to the Student in Transition Empowerment Program (STEP) offered by Traverse City Area Public Schools.
Homeless students face many obstacles to graduation in Traverse City including transportation, housing and school work, according to STEP.
In 2008-09, STEP identified more than 500 students in grades pre-K-12 who qualified as “in residential transition” under federal law. “The number is increasing every day,” said Joan Abbott, regional grants coordinator for the program.
The Traverse City Area Public Schools enrollment is about 10,000.
The law protects the educational rights of homeless children and youth by requiring public schools nationwide to ensure they can stay in class at their same schools.
School board president Marjorie Rich said there is a wide range of reasons why students become homeless.
“Some of them have family situations that make them leave. Some of them live with unemployed parents. Some of them are in trouble with the law,” Rich said.
The number of homeless students enrolled in Michigan public schools jumped from 7,500 in 2007-08 to 14,682 in 2008-09, a 96 percent increase, according to the state Department of Education.
Most of them live with friends and family but some live in a shelter or “couch-surf”, which means they sleep wherever they can on a couch and move from place to place.
Some even live in a car, according to a survey by STEP.
STEP provides job counseling services. It has a transition specialist who helps students develop employment skills such as creating a resume and learning how to interact with interviewers, according to Abbott.
The survey showed that 60 percent of homeless students said they would like to go to college, 55 percent said they want to work, 18 percent would like to get married and 30 percent said “I don’t know” when asked about their post-graduation goals.
© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.