School & District Management

Foster Care, Prison, Homelessness: A Hard Look at Teaching Vulnerable Students

By Hannah Sarisohn — March 13, 2018 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Homeless shelters, foster homes, juvenile detention centers, schools with high immigrant populations—we find our most vulnerable students in these places, as well as in school districts and classrooms across the country. In the special report “Teaching Vulnerable Students,” Education Week examines these students, their needs, and the challenges schools face in engaging them in learning.

Among the biggest challenges in educating the 50,000 incarcerated students who live behind bars is finding and keeping good people to teach them. “Recognizing that teachers need to be certified and trained not just on their content areas but also on the unique needs of youths who are in a juvenile justice setting is critical,” said Kate Burdick, a staff attorney at the Philadelphia-based Juvenile Law Center. Schools inside juvenile justice facilities compete with traditional districts to attract teachers over professional development and support. The Education Week Research Center analyzed how much time students actually spend learning in the classroom at U.S. correctional schools. In some places, it’s as little as 6 hours per week.

For one school in the juvenile justice system, there’s a focus on providing more training and support for teachers. The teachers at The Wyoming Girls School, located in the remote Bighorn Mountains in Sheridan, Wyo., are trained in trauma-informed care—allowing them to connect and develop meaningful relationships with students, as reporter Sarah Sparks writes.

More than 1.3 million students are classified as homeless, and of those students, 18 percent are classified as having disabilities. Reporter Christina Samuels explains how schools are working to overcome the particular challenges these students at the intersection of the McKinney-Vento Act, Every Student Succeeds Act, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act are facing.

Jordon Marshelle Barrett is one of the nearly 274,000 students who was in foster care in 2016. Moving around from different shelters and group homes caused the now-straight-A student to suffer academically. As the number of children in the foster-care system increases, organizations like Treehouse in Washington are working to improve foster students’ graduation rates.

And reporter Corey Mitchell spoke with educators who are still struggling with how to best support immigrant students, as uncertainty remains around policies for undocumented youth. Mitchell explores how schools across the country, from Massachusetts to California, are utilizing community resources to help keep students safe and focused in the classroom.

Check out the full report here.

Image: Students practice handshake techniques as they learn about applying for jobs during an independent-living course at the school.—Kristina Barker for Education Week

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.

Commenting has been disabled on effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Curriculum Webinar
How Data and Digital Curriculum Can Drive Personalized Instruction
As we return from an abnormal year, it’s an educator’s top priority to make sure the lessons learned under adversity positively impact students during the new school year. Digital curriculum has emerged from the pandemic
Content provided by Kiddom
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management Opinion Best Ways for Schools to Prepare for the Next Pandemic
Being better connected to families and the community and diversifying the education workforce are some of the ways to be ready.
14 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
School & District Management From Our Research Center Educators' Support for COVID-19 Vaccine Mandates Is Rising Dramatically
Nearly 60 percent of educators say students who are old enough to receive COVID vaccines should be required to get them to attend school.

4 min read
Mariah Vaughn, a 15-year-old Highland Park student, prepares to receive a COVID-19 vaccine during the vaccine clinic at Topeka High School on Monday, Aug. 9, 2021.
Mariah Vaughn, 15, a student at Highland Park High School in Topeka, Kan., prepares to receive a COVID-19 vaccine at her school in August.
Evert Nelson/The Topeka Capital-Journal via AP
School & District Management 10 Ways to Tackle Education's Urgent Challenges
As the school year gets underway, we ask hard questions about education’s biggest challenges and offer some solutions.
2 min read
Conceptual Image of schools preparing for the pandemic
Pep Montserrat for Education Week
School & District Management Reported Essay Principals Need Social-Emotional Support, Too
By overlooking the well-being of their school leaders, districts could limit how much their schools can flourish.
7 min read
Conceptual Illustration
Pep Montserrat for Education Week