Ector County Independent School District’s Community Outreach Center recently received a $10,000 donation from the Dan & Hermine Hemphill Charitable Foundation that will help it serve more students.
Lead Social Worker Scott Randolph said the foundation had contributed around $5,000 in years past, but this year it was double that amount. “We will get to use it for supplies for needy students throughout the district. We will buy uniforms for students, school supplies and some other small needs that students may have that traditionally we can’t meet in other ways,” Randolph said.
Smaller needs might be TI 84 calculators that cost $80 or $90 and at the end of the school year, there will probably be some students who need caps and gowns to graduate because they can’t afford them, Randolph said.
The majority of the funds go toward uniforms and school supplies, he added.
The Community Outreach Center is funded by ECISD and state and federal funds, but it also relies on donations to help with school supplies and uniforms, especially the “super small,” or “super-large sizes,” Randolph said.
“We tend to run out of those,” he said. “We’re able to meet those needs. It really helps a lot of families.”
Randolph estimated that the Community Outreach Center helps 2,000 to 3,000 students district-wide.
Services for students who are identified as homeless under the federal McKinney-Vento Act are provided with services through the center. He said there are about 1,600 students in the district who are considered homeless, up from 1,400 last year. He said it seems to rise about 10 percent every year.
About 80 percent of those are doubled up out of economic necessity or hardship and approximately 20 percent of those students are living in a shelter, a daily rate motel, or campsite, he said.
“We have social workers that are housed out of here,” Randolph said. “The social workers help all campuses, so they work on attendance. When they go out and make home visits for a student that’s missing school, they go out not as a truant officer but as a social worker and try to figure out why.”
“A lot of times when they show up on the home visit, they can see an eviction notice on the door, or they see a vacant house. Once they are able to find the families, then they can try to remedy the problem for the absences,” Randolph added.
Sometimes the family has been evicted and they’re living on the other side of town and can’t afford transportation to get their children to school. “We can do some things where we can set up the transportation real quick to keep them at their school,” Randolph said.
Randolph said there are many circumstances the social workers run into such as a family’s electricity being turned off, having no water and not being able to afford to wash the uniforms and the children not having clothes or uniforms to wear.
“All kinds of social issues become apparent when you’re making home visits for attendance issues. … The social workers can help them with that,” he added.
Part of the reason for the increase in students who are considered homeless is that the district has gotten better at identifying students in those circumstances, Randolph said.
“Teachers might see indicators that students are in that situation. We also have two new staff at the high schools that work with kids that are having attendance problems, and specifically with students in this program, so the campuses are getting much better at referring the kids to them,” he said.
He added that the boom forced a lot of families into homeless situations, driving people out of their homes because of higher rents.
“We specifically saw a lot of people that came here with just a hope and a dream,” Randolph said. “They had no job where they came from and they heard we had good jobs, so once they got here until they got one of those good jobs, they didn’t have a place to stay. It was kind of a flood.”
Families who are in temporary situations have to move around a lot, which negatively impacts students. Randolph said every time a child’s school is changed, it sets them back six months in their education.
“We would see a lot of these kids would go to five, (or) seven different elementaries, constantly moving. This is a federal law (McKinney-Vento) that says you keep the child at the same school (and) you have to provide the busing, if they want it, so we can keep the kids in their school of origin so they don’t have to adjust to new teachers, new friends and … hopefully it helps them. … They automatically get free lunch and we can help them with some other services,” Randolph said.
Established in 2000, the emphasis of the Dan & Hermine Hemphill Charitable Foundation is on education with special attention to opportunity for underprivileged students.