ICAN Addresses Homeless Youth Education

becky-jackson-ican-president-and-chief-executive-officerOctober 30, 2014 – Many Chandler teens are working to achieve their high school diplomas while faced with the barrier of being homeless. ICAN has been working to address this issue through new partnerships and programs. New data released last month from the National Center for Homeless Education reinforces the gravity of the situation and the importance of finding solutions. As great as this nation is we now have more homeless students living completely on their own, without parents or guardians, than ever before.

It is shocking to learn that 1,285,182 students enrolled in public schools across our country were homeless during the 2012-13 school year. That is a staggering eight percent increase from the year before. Of those, 75,940 were classified as unaccompanied youth, meaning they were living completely on their own.

Is there any wonder why young people experiencing homelessness are 87% more likely to stop going to school? That figure comes straight from the 2014 Don’t Call Them Dropouts report from the America’s Promise Alliance. Public schools are the only universal safety net for these children. They are the only place they can turn to for basic services and the education, essential elements to escape poverty as adults.

truant-jpgThe national numbers are reinforced locally by a report from the Arizona Mayors Education Roundtable. They assert that over one-fifth (22%) of Arizona’s young people are considered disconnected youth, defined as those not in work or school/college. The high school dropout rate in Metropolitan Phoenix has been a chronic issue for years. Measure of America is a New York based non-partisan, non-profit initiative of the Social Science Research Council that studies well-being in America. In 2012 they named the Valley as having the highest rate of youth disconnection among the country’s 25 largest metro areas.

According to the Arizona Department of Education, 22% of our state’s ninth graders will not finish high school. This will have a substantial and negative impact on Arizona’s workforce and economy. Times are changing and by 2018 more than 60% of all jobs in Arizona will require some post-secondary education.

These numbers will only get worse if we don’t do something about it. ICAN has entered into a new partnership with Chandler Youth in Transition, which is comprised of several different non-profit organizations and community leaders, to work with homeless teens with the goal being a high school diploma. Many of these youth “couch surf” between homes and find it very difficult to commit to a full-time, traditional high school. ICAN and the Chandler Unified School District (CUSD), along with a number of community partners, are working with this group of teens to help them succeed.

ICAN is the lead administrative partner on the program. We are working with CUSD to identify and encourage them to enroll and complete their graduation program. Some have chosen to attend Hill Academy @ ICAN, a non-traditional high school with flexible schedules and other options offered at our facility. Students who qualify are offered stipends for their studies based on parameters for grades and attendance. The stipends encourage the youth to continue their academics while helping them deal with their financial constraints.

Hill Academy @ ICAN had its’ first three high school graduates last year. It is a start and as the numbers of enrollment and graduation rise, so will the positive benefits. This issue doesn’t only affect these specific youth and their families. The result is felt by the entire economic state of Arizona.

The Arizona Mayors report reveals staggering economic impact from the dropout issue. High school dropouts cost Arizona $4.9 billion in lost income; $869 million in health costs; $1.7 billion in crime related expenses and $26 million in welfare over their lifetimes. On the other hand, high school dropouts who go to college later wind up saving Arizona $398 million.

These young people need our help and we need them to sustain Arizona’s future. For more information, visit: Arizona Mayors Education Roundtable , National Center for Homeless Education, and American’s Promise Alliance

Becky Jackson
President & CEO, ICAN