LACONIA — The number of homeless children attending Laconia schools has been increasing in recent years according to Mollie Greeley, homeless coordinator for the Laconia School District, who says that this year there were a total of 106 students who at one time or another during the school year were without a home.
Greeley, who is also a guidance counselor at Woodland Heights Elementary School, outlined the extent of the problem of homeless school children in the city at Tuesday night's meeting of the School Board.
Woodland Heights Elementary School reported the most incidents of homeless students, 36, followed by Laconia High School, 23; Laconia Middle School, 22, Pleasant Street Elementary School, 17, and Em Street Elementary School, 8.
Greeley said that she works closely with other school districts in the area as part of a regional network of homeless coordinators and that Franklin schools reported 45 incidents of homeless children and Gilford had 24. The largest number in the state was 665 incidents in Manchester, the state's largest city.
She said that her role is to remove barriers for homeless students in order for them to have access to education and that involves providing immediate access to educational services, transportation, counseling as well as free and reduced school programs.
Greeley said that federal guidelines from the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act of 1987, which was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan, are used to define homeless students and the services for which they are eligible.
She said that in many cases the students or their families lack the documentation normally required and in those cases the requirements are waived in order to provide immediate access. ''We need to provide stability to the students,'' says Greeley, who says that she works closely with guidance departments at all of the district's schools to identify students eligible for services.
She said that intake meetings with new families in the School District help identify many of the needs and that in some cases of homeless children who are runaways or have been abandoned by their families immediate needs are often clothing and footwear.
Children who have been classified as homeless in the School District are often able to continue attending Laconia schools even if they obtain temporary housing in another nearby community is it is deemed in the best interest of the student she says.
Greeley said one recent success story involved a family with two young girls who had been living in the Salvation Army's homeless shelter at Carey House and was finally able to rent an apartment.
''The only catch was they had no beds for the girls. But a quick call to my Meredith counterpart helped get the beds they needed,'' said Greeley.
Another situation she is currently dealing with involves a family which has had to move out of their apartment because their electricity has been shut off and the children are staying in different homes.
''We have a moral obligation to help them.'' says Greeley, whose work was praised by School Board Chairman Joe Cormier and Superintendent of Schools Terri Forsten.
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