Steps to Help Homeless Students and Parents

Dion Ginanto

The war against homelessness has been and will continue to be a serious concern for every nation. Almost every country in this planet experiences the issue of homelessness. In the United States of America for example, there were 1.5 million of sheltered homeless people (during a one-year period) in 2011. Of this number, 21.1 % were under the age of 18. The great recession in this country has forced many citizens to experience homelessness for the first time. The Youtube video entitled A Homeless Mother Struggles to Get Ahead shows an example who became homeless. Debbie and Jasmine’s life is one out of million people who need to be helped. One urgent need that should be addressed is Jasmine’s education. Whatever the reason, Jasmine should enroll in school. This is because school can provide opportunities for homeless children and youth to obtain the skills they need to escape poverty and avoid homelessness as adults (Duffied & Lovell, 2008 in Murphy& Tobin, 2011). As educators, we need to be able to give some effective remedies for homeless families. This article discusses some approaches to help the homeless like Debbie and Jasmine.

What is Homelessness?

According to the McKinney Vento Homeless Assistance Act of 2001 in Cooper (2013) states, “Homeless children and youth are individuals who lacked a fixed regular and adequate night time residence. This includes those who are sharing housing with other persons, living in hotel/motels, trailer parks or camping ground, cars, and living in shelters” (p. 4-5). In line with this, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) defines a homeless person as “An individual who resided in a shelter or place not meant for human habitation and who is exiting an institution where he or she temporarily resided” (National Health Care for the Homeless Council, 2013). It is clear that homelessness is a situation where a person does not have a place to reside as a result of a bad condition. This includes those who live in motels like Debbie and Jasmine.

Debbie and Jasmine on Youtube

            A 2:53 video clip from Youtube depicts a single mother with her daughter who experience homelessness for their first time due to family estrangement. Debbie is a 35 years old mother who stays in a motel with her 7 year-old daughter, Jasmine. Debbie does not have a house nor a car. She works at a local dry cleaner. She needs to pay $250 for the motel every week. She is really sad because she used to be independent, however, she ends up in a bad situation in which she needs help. She wants to make sure that her daughter can live as other children, including getting an education.

Step to Accommodate Homeless Students

            Just imagine that Debbie came to school principal to enroll her daughter. What should he or she does to help both Debbie and Jasmine to assure that Debbie will get the same attention and services as other students? There are some steps and approaches that a school principal can apply to help homeless students and/or parents:

  1. 1.     Barrier Removal

To help Debbie enroll in the school, the principal should be able to understand her condition, and therefore facilitate her school enrollment.  Tower (1992) in Murphy and Tobin (2011) wrote, “the goal with homeless students should be to remove as many barriers as possible to their learning” (p. 219). There are some barriers homeless students will find in schools: residency, guardianship, immunization, and school records (Murphy and Tobin, 2011). Due to the situation, some documentation, which is usually required by administrators at schools, should be waived in order to give a place for a student like Jasmine to study. The McKinney-Vento act is the major asset for homeless students, since it exempts students from many documents required (Murphy and Tobin, 2011). Students’ barriers include transportation. Therefore, a school principal should be able to work together with the community and the local government to provide a free ride for homeless students.

  1. 2.     Basic Needs Fulfillment

Rafferty (1995) in Murphy and Tobin (2011) asserted that “the lack of such resources (school clothes and supplies) has been identified as an ongoing and major barrier to school attendance for homeless students nationwide” (p. 235). Therefore, National Center for Homeless Education (2013) in Cooper (2013) gives some recommendations regarding the basic needs of a student like Jasmine: a) provide access to school shower and laundry facilities; b) provide students with a secure place to store personal belongings; and c) notify school nutrition services; homeless students are automatically eligible for free meals and do not need to follow the normal enrollment process. The Educational Leadership Constituent Council (ELCC) standards number 1.5, mandated school principals to promote community involvement in their school vision (Whitehead, Boschee, and Decker, 2013). Thus, in addressing Jasmine’s needs such as clothing, food, shelter, medical care, school supplies, etc., a school principal should be able to engage every element of community both from inside and outside the school.

  1. 3.     Creating Caring Adults

Homeless students need extra attention. This is because some of them received little attention from their parents. In addition, there are a lot of cases in which the homeless students do not focus on their studies; rather they focus much on how to help their parents and even how they will find a place to sleep. Therefore, a school principal should help homeless students like Jasmine by creating caring adults in the building. Caring adults consist of three dimensions: a) liaisons, someone whose assignment is to worry about and help structure the success of the homeless school population; b) teachers, someone who helps homeless students when they do not have a secure place to live, by being a compassionate advocate; c) mentors, someone who helps homeless students feel a sense of acceptance at school (Murphy and Tobin, 2011).

  1. 4.     Creating an Effective Instructional Program

The National Center for Homeless Education (2013) in Cooper (2013) identifies some strategies to create an effective instructional program for homeless students: a) implement policies to assist with accumulating credits toward graduation such as chunking credits, implementing mastery-based learning, providing partial credit for completed coursework; b) provide flexibility with school assignments, including deadlines and needed supplies; and d. consider alternative education programs that allow flexible school hours, such as computer-based learning or online education. Murphy and Tobin (2011) suggested individualized instruction and cooperative learning platform, to create a more effective instructional program for homeless students. Individualized instruction is considered important for the student with high mobility. Meanwhile, cooperative learning can create an atmosphere of togetherness for students with all different backgrounds, which eventually creates a sense of respect.

  1. 5.     Parental Involvement

“The surest way to support homeless children’s education is to support their parents” (Nunez & Collignon, 2000 in Murphy and Tobin, 2011). In the video, Debbie explains to us that she is really concerned about her daughter’s education. She is willing to be involved with school in order to support Jasmine. Therefore, a school principal needs to really appreciate to the homeless parents who are supportive and encourage those who are not really engaged. Murphy and Tobin (2011) suggest three approaches to engage parents: a) deepened communication, b) develop support networks (to share works with other homeless parents), and c) establish the role of homeless parent advocates or liaisons. When homeless parents are being valued as other normal parents, they will feel they belong to the school family.

  1. 6.     Increasing Awareness about Homelessness

Not all people in the school building as well as in the community are aware of the social problems that create homelessness. As a result, they tend to ignore students and parents who are homeless. If only the community is aware and are willing to help, Debbie’s family and other homeless families will not need to worry about housing nor education. Williams & Korinek, 2000 in Murphy and Tobin, 2011) wrote “A well-developed, ongoing, multidimensional program of staff development experiences to facilitate within-school and within-district awareness, understanding, and capability to respond to identified needs of homeless students characterizes effective school programs serving these students” (p. 230). National Center for Homeless Education (2013) in Cooper (2013) identified two strategies for a principal: a) become familiar with state laws related to the reporting of suspected abuse or neglect or a suspected runaway; and b) become familiar with eligibility criteria for local social services and housing programs; be ready to refer youth when services are needed.

Prioritization of Strategies

            Given all the steps above, a school principal should prioritize the first step in addressing homelessness: barrier removal. The urgent step that needs to be undertaken by every principal is to make sure that all homeless people under 18 are enrolled in school. Therefore, for the case of Jasmine and Debbie, the administrator and the principal should make the requirement for documentation simpler. Above all, distributed leadership should be implemented to remove barriers for homeless students. As a community leader, a school principal should engage the community, teachers, parents, administrators, non-governmental organizations, as well as the government to be supportive to homeless families.

Finally, principals need to make sure that the needs of both parents and students of homeless families are met. By applying these six steps, the educational problems of homeless families can be remedied. By helping homeless students succeed in their education, we can prevent homelessness in the future.



Cooper, Kristy. (2013). Students who are homeless (Chapter C). A class presentation. Michigan: Michigan State University.


Murphy, J. & Tobin, K. (2011). Homelessness comes to school. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin. Chapter 6: The legal framework and ensuring success, and Chapter 7: Ensuring success.


National Health Care for the Homeless Council. (2013). What is the official definition of homelessness? Retrieved from:


Whitehead, B., Bjoschee, F., Decker, R., (2013). The principal: Leadership for a global society; Los Angeles CA., Sage.



Some Approaches to the Betterment of Special Education

Dion Ginanto


The value of social justice must be spread everywhere. There will always be issues related to social justice, especially at schools. We are not supposed to surrender speaking out to strive against discrimination, including the discrimination against special education students. Often times we feel satisfied with the idea of the inclusion, but we seldom evaluate if what we did has given satisfaction to our student with disabilities. The testimony video from Youtube by Emily Hawkins has shown us that there is some work to do in term of the special education problem at schools. As a principal, we need to always improve our service to all students, including to the students with disabilities.  In this paper, I discuss some ideas of how we can improve the quality of services for special education students.

Student with Disabilities

Pullen & Hallahan (2011) in Cooper (2013) identified 11 categories of special education: 1. Intellectual and developmental disabilities; 2. Learning disabilities; 3. Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder; 4. Emotional/behavioral disorders; 5. Communication disorders; 6. Deaf and hard-of-hearing students; 7. Blindness and low vision; 8. Traumatic brain injury; 9. Autism spectrum disorders; 10. Multiple and severe disabilities; and 11. Special gifts and talents (p. 17). The effort to strive to put the students with disabilities into the heterogeneous class was started in 1970. In 1970, only 20% of students with disabilities were educated in America’s public school and there were over three million students with disabilities that did not receive an education that was appropriate to their needs (Yell, Katsiyannis, & Bradley, 2011 in Cooper, 2013). Yet, we need to still work hard to give a better education for special education students, even though we have a better system right now.

Some Approaches to the Betterment of Special Education

The short video clip from Youtube by Emily Hawkins showed us that there are some problems she encountered when she received special education at schools: the horrible placement test, the feeling of being babied, and the lack of accommodation.  She compared college to the public school systems. When she was in middle and high school, she always received a test to measure her specialness; however, she was put in uncomfortable circumstances. She also felt overprotected by the school as well as she did not feel like she belonged in the school. Even though there are some educational settings that served her well, such as great teachers who could teach her well, we need to still improve the quality for special ed students.  There are some approaches to better serve the students with disabilities which I adopted fromm Theoharis’ (2009) idea of modern inclusion: 1. Collaborative teams; 2. Increasing positive climate and instructional practices; and 3. Increasing accountability system.

  1. Collaborative Teams

Lashley (2007) contended that if we want to improve our services to the students with disability, we need to increase the number of personnel to serve them. This is aimed to give more services with high quality to the students. In line with this, Theoharis (2009) suggested that students with disabilities should get the collaborative teams of professionals within the general education classroom.  The concept is that each specialist is paired with a smaller, manageable number of general education teachers. Therefore, a school principal should initiate a sustainable professional development plan for general teachers in order to be able to work, make a curriculum and lecture with the specialist teacher. The collaborative teaming is very effective to a bit eliminate a segregated and pullout model. By having a collaborative teaming in the inclusive program, one can avoid the negative perspective of students with disabilities as felt by Emily Hawkins in the short video.

  1. Increasing positive climate and instructional practices

Emily Hawkins in her video shared to us that she felt se did not belong in her school. She felt that her high school teachers were babying her. Thus, she felt uncomfortable doing tests. This means that the school where Miss Hawkins attended was having a negative school climate.  To eliminate the feeling of not belonging in the school of the special ed students, the school principal should increase the positive climate and instructional practices. Increasing awareness of the people in the building, such as teacher, administrator, and students to more welcoming to those who are with disabilities, will give a positive impression to the special education students. Also, supportive facilities for the handicap students should be evaluated and increased all the time.

Increasing academic rigor and access to opportunities are also required to improve the service to the special education students. Theoharis (2009) wrote school principals should be brave to offer courses to students, especially courses for students with disabilities, that they need to get into college. He added that every school principal should be ready to have more academic rigor infused in the curriculum. Giving more opportunities, rigorous curriculum, and some courses that are not exclusively for general students will increase the amount of belonging special ed students have for the school. The special education students deserve these better kinds of instructions. The final goal of this stage is that special education students will increase their sense of belonging to their schools.

  1. Increasing Accountability Systems

How would we know that schools were successful in educating children if they did not collect data to hold the teaching and learning accountable? There are still a lot of schools that discriminate an individual with disability without being held accountable. The reason why we should hold the school accountable, especially for special education students, are: 1. The educational outcomes of students with disabilities have not improved as much as expected; 2. Children with disabilities are part of, not separated from, the general population; 3. An emphasis on compliance-over-results fails to acknowledge States with successful special education programs; 4. State early-intervention needs to expand the quality and extent of data required outcomes to improve programming; 5. The IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) accountability system should measure how well state and local educational agencies are educating children with disabilities (Clark, 2012). Theoharis (2009) asserted the importance of collecting and analyzing the data to understand the academic performance of every student. Using data driven decision-making can be very valuable to avoid making a policy based on the assumption. Increasing accountability at school is also aimed to understand where inequities in quality, programs, and achievement exist. In line with this, Lashley (2007) stressed that NCLB (No Children Left Behind) has forced the principal’s hands by requiring public accountability. We are hoping not to hear a negative comments by a student like Emily Hawkins in the future, when we have already increased our accountably, especially for students with disabilities.

All in all, as mentioned by Theoharis (2009) that schools are expected to eliminate social injustice including to the issue of special education. We understand that all we have done will not always satisfied the need of the students, but it does not mean that we can give up in dealing with the problems. In term of improving the services to the students with disabilities, we can use these three ideas: 1. Collaborative teams; 2. Increasing positive climate and instructional practices; and 3. Increasing accountability system. All people in the building as well as parents and local government need to work together to achieve the education for all. By working collaboratively in doing these three approaches, discrimination for students with disabilities can be reduced.


Clarke, C. D. (2012). Outcome to drive special ed accountability. Retrieved from:

Cooper, Kristy. (2013). Students receiving special education services (Chapter B). A class presentation. Michigan: Michigan State University.

Lashley, C. (2007). Principal leadership for special education: An ethical framework. Exceptionality, 15(13), 177-187.

Theoharis, g. (2009). The school leaders our children deserve: Seven keys to equity, social justice, and school reform. New York: Teachers College Press. Chapter 3: “There is no social justice without inclusion: Advancing inclusion, access, and opportunity for all.


Dropout Students

Dion Ginanto


It is very shocking to me as an international student knowing the fact that four out of 10 students in Detroit do not graduate from high school. Each year, more than half a million young people drop out of high school, which has been the same rate for the last 30 years(Dynarski, 2008). As a student from Indonesia, I used to think that the dropout student is a serious problem only in the country. After watching the video about dropout students in Detroit and reading some articles about preventing the dropout cases, I now realize that dropout prevention has become a worldwide concern. This article discusses the analysis of the video entitled Detroit Tackles Dropout Crisis by Engaging Students, Parents, as well as another approach of preventing dropout from my perspective.

The video by American Graduate is about the effort to solve the issue of dropout students in Detroit by conducting two approaches: parents and students. The approaches to engage parents in order to avoid students’ failure are by conducting the parental calls, parental visits, and parental workshops. Meanwhile, the approach conducted to engage students is by creating voluntary students’ programs and increasing a positive school climate. Before discussing further about the prevention efforts, I would first consider what actually causes the dropout students rate.

Balfanz, Herzog and Mac Iver (2007) focus on the students’ disengagements in order to combat the dropout cases. They define student disengagement as “a higher order factor composed of correlated subfactors measuring different aspects of the process of detaching from school, disconnecting from tis norms and expectations, reducing effort and involvement at school, and withdrawing from a commitment to school and to school completion” (p. 224). There are some factors causing student disengagement: attendance, academic achievement, suspensions, behavior grades, and status variables–being either special education or English Language Learner (Balfanz, Herzog and Mac Iver, 2007). In line with this, Dynarski et. al (2008) viewed increasing student engagement as critical to preventing dropping out, since dropping out typically occurs during high school; however,  disengagement process may begin much earlier and include academic, social, and behavioral components. Rumberger (2011) in Cooper (2013) identified some dropout causes:

Individual perspective (academic engagement, social engagement, goals, self perceptions, poor academic achievement, failed courses, retention grade, student mobility, course taking history, absenteeism, discipline problem, deviance, working more than 20 hours/week, pregnancy, and poor health), and Institutional perspective (family and community engagement, family/community SES, relationship with parents, parenting style, family structure, family resources, students composition of school, school resources and students/size, school process and practices, academic and social climate of school, peer group, and access to recourses in the community) (p. 27).

Parent-Based Approach

Approaching parents is very crucial to anticipate the dropout students. In the Detroit Tackles Dropout Crisis by Engaging Students, Parents movie, one of the teacher named Michelle Shorter made a phone call to the parent not only informing them of the bad news about their kids, instead, she called to let the parents know that their kid is doing well in school. Michelle Shorter explains in the video that rewarding the kids both at home and at school can trigger the students’ motivation. In addition, the action done by Detroit Parent Network (DPN) needs to be spread everywhere. DPN is not only giving support to the parents about the academic matters, but also giving workshops about financial literacy, career counseling, and leadership skills, as well as food baskets and other goods. This assistance is really needed by the parents, especially low-income parents. In line with this, Dynarski et. al (2008) recommended parental involvement as one of their suggestions regarding to dropout prevention. The adult (teacher and administrator) should be responsible for addressing academic and social needs, communicating with families and advocating students. The adult and students should have time to meet regularly (Dynarski 2008).

Student-Based Approach

The second approach to prevent the failure of the students graduation is a student-based approach. Romeo High School’s efforts to involve the students based on their interests are very effective. Katelyn Morris, one of the students who almost dropped out school, admitted that by joining some voluntary programs at school, she felt more motivated and also made new friends who could help her. Dynarski (2008) asserted that schools can help students identify, understand, and self-regulate their emotions and interactions with peers and adults. Meanwhile, Balfanz, Herzog and Mac Iver (2007) recommend three main areas of focus intervention in term of a student-based approach: attendance, behavior, and course failures. Another important recommendation by Dynarski (2008), regarding to student-based approach is by providing academic support and enrichment to improve academic performance. This assistance can help student improve academic performance and reengage to school.

Teacher-Based Approach 

Both approaches (students and parents) from the short film are considered effective. However, there is another approach, which is also important to consider: teacher-based approach. The elements in school that can determine the students’ engagement are teachers. Positive school climate can be achieved if the teachers can create a positive classroom climate. Balfanz, Herzog and Mac Iver (2007) asserted that the reformation of the roles, skills, and outlooks of the adults who teach or administer in the schools and the improvement of middle-grade instructional materials and pedagogy are considered strategies to improve student engagement. The dropout recommendation number five written by Dynarski (2008) is also effective: “Personalize the learning environment and instructional process (school wide intervention).” This recommendation is very important since a personalized learning environment creates a sense of belonging and fosters a school climate where students and teachers can get to know one another and can provide academic, social and behavioral encouragement (Dynarski, 2008). Teachers will stand on the front line in personalizing the learning environment, therefore increasing teacher skills is very important as an effective way to prevent dropouts.

All in all, the film entitled “Detroit Tackles Dropout Crisis by Engaging Students, Parents” has been advocating positives approaches in dealing with dropout students in Detroit. The case in Detroit can be a model of combating dropout problems, not only in the United States of America but also for countries around the world. The student- and parent-based approach in the film has been proven effective; however, by adding the teacher approach, I believe this will make the efforts more effective in combating the dropout rate. Therefore, the effects of the dropout crisis identified by Orfield (2004) in Cooper (2014) :

1. Are four times as likely to be on welfare; 2. Face higher rates of unemployment over their lifetime; 3. Have a higher likelihood of serving time in prison; 4. Are more likely to go without health insurance or pension plans; 5. Are likely to lead less healthy and shorter lives; and 6. Face lower average earnings; can be avoided (p.23),

can be avoided. All elements at school, especially the school leader needs to have a strong commitment to realize these three approaches.


Cooper, Kristy. (2013). Students at risks for dropping out from school (Chapter C). A class presentation. Michigan: Michigan State University.

Dynarski, M., Clarke, L., Cobb, B., Finn, J.,Rumberger, R. Smink, J. (2008). Dropout prevention practice guide. Institute of Education Sciences. (NCEE 2008-4025).

Balfanz, R., Herzog, L., Mac Iver, D.J., (2007). Preventing student disengagement and keeping students on the graduation path in urban middle-grades schools: Early identification and effective interventions. Educational Psychologist, 42(4), 223-235.