In November, several of our Madison City Schools’ students and their families went through a traumatic experience with a recent apartment fire in Madison, AL. The fire left several of our students and their families displaced from their homes. Everything changed for them overnight, and many were left with nowhere to go. Such a traumatic event can result in students losing focus on their academics. They are no longer worried about the simple everyday things, such as completing homework, studying for tests, eating supper, and getting ready for school the next day. They’re now worried about when their next meal will be, where they will be sleeping that night, where they will go to school, and what clothes they have left that they can wear to school the next day. All of these needs must be met in order for students to focus and succeed academically. In an event like this, it takes the schools, central office, and community to come together and rally for these students and their families. Madison City Schools’ social worker collaborated with the administrators, federal programs staff, counselors, finance department, and school staff to complete a needs assessment and make sure each family affected by this fire had food, shelter, school supplies, clothing, and transportation. Donations came pouring in by the community to make sure these students and families had some sort of stability and supports in place. These efforts were coordinated through the McKinney-Vento program offered in our district to support vulnerable populations who have been displaced due to economic or financial hardships.
The needs of Madison City Schools’ students are diverse and go far beyond academic support. One of the programs supporting the whole child and students in need focuses on homeless or displaced students who are protected under the McKinney-Vento Act. This act was designed to address the challenges that displaced children and youth have faced in enrolling, attending, and succeeding in school. Many of the students supported by the McKinney-Vento program go through distressing events resulting in an overwhelming amount of stress and trauma. A traumatic experience can make it more difficult for a child to succeed academically. It could change the way a child thinks or acts, negatively impacting their physical, emotional, and mental well-being. The McKinney-Vento Act emphasizes the importance of school stability and well-rounded education for displaced children and youth by removing any barriers connected to homelessness. Thanks to the supports that have been put in place by the schools, central office, and Madison community through the McKinney-Vento program, nearly 40 students have transitioned out of the program back to stability at the end of last school year.
One of the strong areas of focus for the district McKinney-Vento program is related to the mental health needs of our students. A number of challenges affect students’ mental health as they are impacted by adverse circumstances or traumatic events, such as the recent apartment fire. Madison City Schools’ social worker, Briana Hawkins, LBSW, MSW, works closely with the federal programs coordiantor, schools, and students to support the mental health needs of the displaced students and staff working with these students. Mrs. Hawkins is a national trainer for Mental Health First Aid, a program offering 8-hour Mental Health First Aid training to teachers, administrators, counselors, and school staff. This training educates school staff on how to identify and respond to a mental health crisis that affects all students, including those displaced from their homes. District will be offering this training to the school employees working with the students in need in the upcoming months.
Behavior problems, anxiety, truancy , and hunger are among some of the additional challenges faced by the students supported by the McKinney-Vento program. The district social worker coordinates services and offers support addressing these challenges and needs. Mrs. Hawkins provides 10-week long parenting classes for parents with children who struggle with behavioral issues. In addition to these trainings, the social worker will be offering truancy classes for parents whose children have attendance problems. The truancy issues students face can occur after going through a traumatizing event and not knowing how to effectively cope with the fear, anger, or anxiety that follows this event. Additionally, weekend food bags are provided to students through church donations and community support to combat hunger. All these services target removal of barriers to allow students to continue focusing on their learning.
The students who were impacted by the fire along with other students served by the McKinney-Vento program are now able to focus on what’s important to them with the help of the schools, central office, and community coming together.