Each year, Denver Public Schools (DPS) serves thousands of students and families who are homeless. In the 2007-08 school year, DPS served more than 1,300 homeless students. In 2015-16, that number more than doubled to 2,519 students – the largest number to date.
In alignment with the Denver Plan 2020 goal of Closing the Opportunity Gap, the Homeless Education Network (HEN) and Migrant Education Program (MEP) partnered with the Office of College and Career Readiness to expand resources for homeless and migrant students who will soon be graduating.
On Nov. 3, 2016, DPS students who are either experiencing homelessness or who have migrant backgrounds met with representatives from colleges throughout Colorado. The purpose of this special Senior Night was to connect these high school students with colleges and universities across the state to ensure they are aware of resources available to help them conquer barriers of enrollment and attendance, and to achieve their higher education aspirations. Students received information about scholarships and a variety of resources, such as tuition waivers and year-round housing.
For Onesti Turner, a senior at George Washington High School, an average day begins around 5 a.m. and ends around 1 a.m. She attends school all day, then works part-time, then returns home to do homework before bed. With the support of HEN, she is determined to achieve her goal of attending the University of Northern Colorado to earn a degree in psychology.
“My drive keeps me going,” said Turner. “I want to do something better for my future, and in order for me to do that, I have to keep pushing. I can’t let my situation stop me even though it’s hard.”
Johnnie Hamm, a senior who also receives support from HEN, has a similar lifestyle to Turner. He takes an hour-long bus ride to school from his shared home in Aurora, where he sleeps on the couch of a generous friend.
“I know that my dreams and my hopes are just one more step closer,” said Hamm. “I don’t live with family anymore and don’t have someone who provides for me. I have a different perspective on life since I have to take care of myself.”
Students who experience homelessness are 87% more likely to drop out of school than their peers. With the support of HEN, students who are homeless have nearly doubled their graduation rates from 23.5% (2007-08) to 41.8% (2015-16). The goal of HEN is to increase the graduation rate by 20% by 2020.
For more information on the Homeless Education Network in DPS, visit hen.dpsk12.org.