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Missouri's largest district sees high number of homeless students starting school this year


SPRINGFIELD, Missouri — The Springfield school district, the largest in Missouri, has a record number of homeless students starting school this year.

More than half of the 807 students considered homeless at the beginning of the 2015-16 academic year are in elementary schools, while 213 are in high school, 166 are in middle school and three are in preschool, the Springfield News-Leader (http://sgfnow.co/1U6aJr7 ) reported.

A review of this year's initial count shows more teenagers and students "doubled up" with other families. They're considered homeless under federal definitions.

With such a high count at the beginning of the school year, the district's homeless liaison, Lawrence Anderson, believes the district is poised to exceed the 850 or so students found to be homeless during the entire 2013-14 year. The Springfield district has an estimated 25,000 students.

Anderson said students lacking a stable home are at a much higher risk of dropping out and lagging behind their peers academically.

"The goal is to have school be their constant," Anderson said. "We want to support them and we want them to be able to be part of the school, participating in extracurricular activities."

Executive director Morey Mechlin of Care to Learn said starting classes in the district with more than 800 homeless students is "unfortunate" but there's a silver lining.

"It's fortunate that the district is aware of this," she said. "The district is on top of this issue."

Mechlin cited the district's Kids First committee, which regularly brings together community groups working to meet the basic needs of students. The committee provided an update at a Tuesday meeting on efforts to provide free meals, food-filled weekend backpacks and mobile and school food pantries for needy students and their families.

"Here we have an organized group of people interested in addressing that need," Mechlin said. "We need to continue to work together to support the students."

Information from: Springfield News-Leader, http://www.news-leader.com

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