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270 students listed as homeless in Mon

There are 270 reasons why Anne Greza is all about teachers taking roll.

And why she’s all about students raising their hands to announce they are present for the day.

Greza is the outreach coordinator for Monongalia County Schools and official county liaison for McKinney-Vento.

That’s the federal security act providing for public school students in need.

And there are students in need in Monongalia County, she said — even though it might not always seem like it.

That’s because of outward appearances, she said.

In terms of buildings and other infrastructure, most of Mon’s schools are newer, compared to the rest of the state.

Mon’s students also generally tend to have higher test scores than their counterparts across West Virginia.

And the county’s citizens are often hailed for the commitment they show to local education in the voting booth. School levies that support all the extracurricular activities the district is known for almost always get an overwhelming “yes” vote on the ballot.

But, as Greza said, all roads don’t lead to Mon in terms of prosperity and a happy, well-adjusted school district.

Even with all its attributes, Mon County, she said, still has the same woes as the rest of West Virginia.

Poverty, food insecurity, post-COVID economic woes and the ongoing fentanyl crisis are casting the same long shadows here as, say, the state’s traditionally downtrodden southern coalfields.

As of October, Greza had officially identified 270 homeless students across Mon schools.

“Homeless,” as defined by the considerations of her office, means those students who don’t have a stable roof over their heads at the moment.

A room for the night

A majority of those students, as in past years, are currently “doubled up,” or staying with relatives or friends, as she’s chronicled.

Then, there are the students staying in shelters, cars, campgrounds and other venues of substandard housing — which also hits at Greza’s heart, since she’s a social worker by training.

The school district generally stays in that same neighborhood of numbers.

For instance, in pre-pandemic times, Mon ended the 2018-19 school year with 288 homeless students, Greza said.

There are also the students who move frequently, because their parents or other caregivers pay rent. That means relocating in and out of new attendance areas, which oftentimes means trouble adjusting to their new school — which means they simply stop going.

That’s why the district has two dedicated buses to take a student to the school he identifies as “his,” even if he currently lives in a different attendance area.

Getting them where they live

Mon County’s current McKinney-Vento grant is for $50,000, which is also matched with Title I funding.

A number of area businesses also offer grants to the district, she said.

The monies might be used for school clothes, or a new set of all-season tires, or the application for the ACT or SAT test.

Other outlays have been for first and last month’s rent or the security deposit on a place that finally might get a student off the homeless rolls — so he can raise his hand for morning roll call in school.

In West Virginia, 13,530 students came under the McKinney-Vento definition of homelessness last year, according to numbers culled from the state Department of Education.

That means one out of every 20 students in the Mountain State, the department said.

Education, Greza said, as in going to school and graduating, means empowerment – as in, self-worth.

And self-worth, she said, can break stifling bonds of generational poverty.

“That’s the thing,” she said.

“We need to get them in their classroom seats.”

For more information, call the district’s McKinney-Vento office at 304-291-9210, extension 1704.