Tuesday, March 31, 2009

First Place In The News

The Seattle Times posted this article today: Jimi Hendrix childhood home torn down.

First Place supporter Pete Sikov was the owner of the home and is keeping many of the original pieces of the house. First Place is mentioned in this paragraph of the article as a possible beneficiary:
Perhaps, he (Sikov) said, pieces could be sold as a fundraiser for First Place, an agency that helps homeless children and which Sikov has assisted in the past.
Pete has been funding the First Place Music Program for years, and we would be honored to be the benficiary of this endeavor. Thank you, Pete!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Gates Foundation Pledges $60 Million to Help End Family Homelessness

The Washington Families Fund is launching a new strategy to prevent and end family homelessness.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have pledged $60 Million over 10 years to the public-private partnership.

The major goal of this initiative will be to reduce the number of homeless families by 50% in the next decade.

Read more here in the Seattle Times.
Read the Gates Foundation Press Release.

First Place is excited to see this partnership in light of the increase in homelessness prevention requests through our rental assistance funds. This month in our first hour of taking rental assistance phone calls - we received 60 calls for support. We normally receive about 35 calls a month, and not all in the first hour. First Place can typically only offer assistance to 4 or 5 families a month.

Inside the walls of First Place

This week we want to share with you the classroom and program updates from our monthly parent newsletter.

Classroom Highlights! Students were asked to tell us "What is the highlight of your class?"

Update from Ms. Molly and Ms. Jenni in Kindergarten:
Kindergarten has celebrated twice this week, once by making green eggs for Dr. Seuss’ birthday and today for the 100th Day of School! We made necklaces with 100 rings on them, and counted many other objects to 100. We are continuing to work hard as we master sight words and improve our reading skills. We also are adding, subtracting, and measuring with rulers. Most of all, we enjoy playing, learning, and helping each other grow.

Ms. Kristy's 1st/2nd Grade Class:
“We learned about the season of the year and about how some people like winter better than other seasons. I like to learn about winter because that is the season that I can ice skate.”

“I learned about art like self portrait, making bugs, we also went for a nature walk looking for bugs.”

“I learned doing work and playing.”

“I learned to behave and to make cakes with play do.”

Ms. Nicole's 2nd/3rd Grade Class:
“I learned geometry and making a book. We were making shapes for geometry and learned words from geometry.”

“Currently we are learning about shapes and big words.”

“We learned shapes, words, we went on field trips, we went to pump it up gym, and I learned that we jump a lot.”

“We learned about oceans. There are different kinds of animals in the water. And different kinds of things that they do. We learned, in the ocean that the momma fish lay their eggs and then leaves them. They don’t stick around to care for them. It is called survival.”

Ms. Di's 4th/5th Grade Class:
“I learned fractions and I got finished with my work first before any one in my class yesterday and today. We went to Olympia trip with the 5th & 6th graders.”

“I learned fractions & time tables up to the 13’s. We had a field study to the African American Museum.”

“I went to the African American museum .”

“We learned about fractions, we did times table to 13’s.

“I went to the African American Museum with my class.”

“I’m learning about ways to write division in math.”

Ms. Tappin's 5th/6th Grade Class
“We are learning about National Women’s Month , aviation, and WWII. It’s fun. I got my sealant. I’m famous when we went to Olympia.”

“Me, and [my classmates] were on the front page of the Olympian Newspaper. We got to interview Dr. Cato for the National Women’s Month.”

Have A Heart For Kids Day Update

On Febrary 27, 2009 First Place 4th-6th graders (along with parents, staff and volunteers) traveled to Olympia to lobby for children’s rights. We attended Have a Heart For Kids Day, which is an annual lobby day sponsored by the Children’s Alliance.

Highlights of the day were:
  • Attended a rally with Governor Christine Gregoire
  • Met with state legislators
  • Participated in activities with Tulalip Elementary School 5th graders
  • Participated in a scavenger hunt at the Capitol Building
  • Took a tour of the Capitol and Legislative Buildings
  • Shared personal stories of success and challenge with our legislators
  • Advocated for our school programs such as Building Bridges
In preparation for this trip, Ms. Di and Ms. Tappin have worked incredibly hard to teach their students about civics and advocacy. For example, in Ms. Di’s class, students followed the Obama campaign and aligned the K-Kids election with the presidential election. They explored the election process, and focused on ballot voting. Ms. Tappin and Ms. Di each brought in daily newspapers and discussed current events with their students, to develop an awareness of local and national issues.

Students learned key vocabulary words, and were asked questions like “What is the difference between a democracy and a dictatorship?" and "What are ethics?" Students also worked in their classrooms and in their info-skills class to learn what a bill is, and how it becomes a law and researched their state representatives, and learned about the role of government at the state level.

They also wrote letters to their legislators, lobbying for bills that were of particular interest to them. Some of their letters addressed important issues such as homelessness, foster care, health care, college funding, transportation, and more.

Thanks so much to Ms. Melanie, Mr. Art, Ms. Liz, Ms. Di and Ms. Tappin for organizing this vent and preparing our students for this experience!

View pictures of First Place students in Olympia
Read a prior post about Have A Heart for Kids Day.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Two new reports on homeless children and families

In our last post, Are there more homeless students in our schools?, we talked about homeless families being invisible to the rest of the population because they stay for long periods of time in non-traditional housing, or they share housing with another family.

Yesterday another article was featured in the NY Times, giving a closer look at how families with children are coping with unstable homes and living in motels month to month. Read that article here: As Jobs Vanish, Motel Rooms Become Home.
"Motels are a part of the transition process for over 15% of First Place families, some of which live there for a majority of a school-year. In that kind of environment most of these families become exposed to street violence, drug use and other ills that develop the social and emotional traumas that prevents academic excellence or family stability," said Gene Harris, Director of Family Support Services at First Place.

Yesterday we also learned that nationally 1 in 50 children experience homelessness in America each year. The report by the National Center on Family Homelessness also ranks all 50 states. And where did Washington fall? At number 25 - right in the middle. Here is an overview on the Washington State report card:
  • 9,575 children in grades Kindergarten through 8 are homeless.
  • 1 in 26 children do not know where they will get their next meal.
  • Less than 25% of homeless children will graduate from High School.
  • 56.5% of homeless families with children struggle with transportation to and from school.
The report also says there is no dedicated state funding (in Washington) for homeless education.

Download full report here: http://www.homelesschildrenamerica.org/

Check out just Washington State here: http://www.firstplaceschool.org/WA_report.pdf

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Are there more homeless students in our schools?

Today we wanted to share this article with you from MSNBC.com: ‘Tidal wave’ of homeless students hits schools.

More and more we have been seeing articles like this one reporting on the rising numbers of family homelessness and homeless children attending public schools.

This article is a great snapshot of what families in Seattle and King County are dealing with right now. First Place is a unique agency which serves the needs of the entire family in their struggle with homelessness and extreme poverty. We decided to take a few of the themes in the article and tell you a little bit more about what that means and how First Place helps children and families with their struggle.

Read the article here.
Learn more about First Place on our website, or by reading our blog profile.

Housing – Family homelessness can be invisible
The MSNBC.com article mentions one family living out of a garage, and another which is living with friends. Family homelessness is often invisible to the larger community because many of the families are living in non-traditional places (such as garages) which are not included in a One Night Count. (Learn about the Local and National One Night Counts)

First Place works with parents to move them from emergency shelters and temporary homes (such as a garage, a car, or friends house) and into stable housing. All families enrolled in our services work with a case manager who supports parents on job training and education, job placement, housing, life skills and health needs. First Place also has a limited number of apartment units to house families with school-age children.

Learn more about the invisible homeless in this Change.org blog post: Full House: More Families Shackin' Up.

Trauma caused by instability
When children have adult worries such where they will be sleeping and if they will eat dinner, they are not able to concentrate at school, or even sleep at night. The extreme stress and trauma also affects their physical health, their ability to learn, their emotional and social behavior, and cognitive development. Many homeless families are a single parent fleeing domestic violence or abuse which also causes trauma in children. At First Place, we work with children on their social and emotional development. We help them feel they are in a safe and trusted environment and provide counseling and art therapy to help work through this difficult time.

How trauma affects education
Many students attending First Place come to our school two to three grade levels behind their peers in public schools due to the trauma and stress of poverty and homelessness. First Place works on stabilizing the emotional needs of the students and their academic needs. In addition to the school day, many students have a volunteer tutor or mentor who spends one hour a week with the student. We also provide 40 hours of tutoring to students through Knowledge Points. At the end of the 40 hours, students gain an average one grade level in reading or math.

Teasing at school is another trauma that children endure as a result of instability in their lives. At First Place, most of the kids are in the same situation – so teasing about having unbrushed hair or wearing the same clothes every day just doesn’t happen.

Health, nutrition & basic needs
Children and families living in extreme poverty and unstable housing often lack proper nutrition, regular meals and sometimes aren’t able to bath regularly. Stress and trauma breaks down the immune system and especially affects children who become susceptible to colds, flu and more.

First Place has a nurse practitioner on-site to take care of the health needs of the children. We also provide breakfast, lunch and an afternoon snack. We also provide school bus transportation to First Place and back to their home in the evening. Throughout the year we provide clothing, shoes and hygiene items. We also work with parents to ensure their living situation supports the daily hygiene and health needs of their family.

Is Seattle seeing a ‘Tidal Wave’ of homeless students?
Answer: It’s hard to tell. First Place called Ruth McFadden, the district homeless liaison for Seattle Public Schools, and learned that most of the calls coming in are from new families and that a lot of families who were previously asking for assistance have been able to move forward. Ruth also mentioned that some of the addresses were new to her – meaning that the families asking for assistance might not be living in shelters and are possibly living in non-traditional homes mentioned at the beginning of the article.

Information about the rights of homeless students in Seattle Public School can be found here: http://www.seattleschools.org/area/homeless/index.dxml

First Place is seeing an increase in phone calls asking for assistance, and like many organizations, is not able to expand our services to meet the need due to the current economy.

Why First Place?
First Place is a tuition free private school especially designed to meet the needs of homeless and low-income students and provide support to the entire family. Our goal is to help children successfully transition into public school and to stabilize the entire family. Students transition into public school within one to three years of their time at First Place.

View a recent Success Story of a student who recently transitioned into a Seattle public school here: Proud Parent Say Thank You.

We invite you to learn more. First Place offers tour on Fridays at 11am. RSVP at tours@firstplaceschool.org.