In the richest and supposedly most advanced country ever conceived, the words “student” and “homeless” shouldn’t be used in the same sentence.
The idea that young people working hard to get a much-desired education don’t have a permanent or safe place to live should be a priority to overcome.
Yet it is a problem.
The latest statistics released by the state of Oregon show one Clatsop County community is in the unenviable role of leading the way.
Warrenton-Hammond School District recorded 160 — more than half of Clatsop County’s 315 homeless students last school year. And that was up from 125 the prior year.
Now we acknowledge that statistics rarely paint a totally accurate picture in any circumstance. There are always “ifs” and “buts” when compiling any data. For example, that doesn’t mean all those 160 teens and their younger siblings live rough on the banks of Coffenbury Lake. “Homeless” covers a multitude of conditions, including family members who couch surf or share dwellings with others because of their poverty.
But still, nearly 10 percent — that’s 31 students — were considered “unsheltered,” living in cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings and other substandard housing. All were in Warrenton, including in campgrounds such as KOA and Fort Stevens State Park.
That is both appalling and unacceptable.
One bright note is that Warrenton leaders are aware of the issue. Mark Jeffery, the school superintendent, is among those who has these damning stats on his front burner.
And his educators are doing something about it.
“If we have a student who’s struggling — the cause for that struggle, while it’s worth noting — we get in there and work with them at the point of struggle,” Jeffery said.
The other bright aspect is that students classified as “homeless” in Warrenton have higher attendance records than much of the state.
And the district’s most recent state test scores, just one way of measuring students’ academic progress, are actually looking pretty darned good.
For example, it was the only district in Clatsop County to post a high rating for academic progress of students between the third and eighth grades. That included high scores for low-income students and average academic progress for Hispanic and multiracial students.
Warrenton’s academic prowess was most evident in math, where half of the district’s eighth graders met or exceeded grade-level competency; its third graders vastly outperformed their peers in the county and statewide in English language arts competency, with 69 percent meeting or exceeding state standards.
The focus of these achievements is Warrenton Grade School, a vibrant building where the entire staff is dedicated to one cause — properly equipping every student to advance well-prepared for their high school years. Principal Tom Rogozinski’s team of educators do emphasize basics, including test-taking skills. But this strategy is enriched by focusing on seeking ways to broaden their educational diet, specifically the application of learning to the real world. Students who demonstrate prowess beyond their grade level are nurtured, too.
So these latest headlines from Warrenton offer a mixed report with no obvious conclusions. On the one hand, academic progress appears evident. On the other, students are still disadvantaged by poverty. The fact that many are succeeding in spite of their circumstances should not change our commitment to enhancing their situations.
But until our society properly commits to addressing economic inequality, and the North Coast truly provides adequate affordable housing, the number of homeless students will continue to be unacceptably high. Meanwhile, we must salute and encourage those educators doing what they can to help their community’s young people succeed.