Oct 26, 2011 11:16 AM by Kay Rossi (Great Falls)

Great Falls schools reach out to "educationally homeless"

In the Great Falls school district, officials estimate that there are 113 students classified as "educationally homeless."

This includes students living in multiple-family homes, motels, or in cars and at campgrounds.

Sally Mathers, federal programs director for the district, said, "We handle our homeless students case by case. What are the barriers they're facing and how do we keep them in school?"

The district receives about $30,000 annually in federal funding for outreach efforts to find school-age kids in need, keep current students in a stable school situation, and train educators to identify homeless students; Mathers noted, "There's very limited funding in Montana but we as a district are able to capture a small piece of that funding."

But the district's efforts can only go so far, and that's where the Great Falls Rescue Mission steps in.

Mission director Jim Kizer said, "We want to make sure they get fed before they go off to school, we will make sure they have the clothing they need, school supplies."

The mission also re-launched an after-school program that provides homework help and Bible studies; Kizer said, "It's important, too, not only the academic part of it but they really need to know that someone cares about them."

Another new tool is a computer lab to provide a quiet space for students to study.

Mathers says as the school year progresses, educators will be able to identify more homeless cases.

Of the 26 children that the mission serves, about 14 are currently attending its after-school program.

The program still needs volunteers; for more information call 761-2653 and ask for Athena.

Mathers noted that last year, seven educationally-homeless students successfully graduated.