Out of sight, out of mind: Some students struggle with stability at home

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PARKER, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) -- When housing is hard to find, some parents move their kids from school to school.

But some school leaders in Florida say the effects of those moves can follow the children into the classroom for a long time.

Principal Kimberly Kirkman's fourth grade students at Parker Elementary School in Parker, Florida are studying hard. But she said it can be hard for them to concentrate when they have a lot more than math on their minds.

"The incidents of childhood trauma that we deal with on a regular basis would probably just astound most of the community," she said.

Bay District Schools deal with high rates of student mobility, meaning many students are constantly moving. It's usually as parents struggle to keep up with and find affordable housing.

"I've had a student begin a school year with me last year and then leave, and come back in fourth grade again and then leave," said Lindsey Wallis, a fourth grade teacher. "It can be quite a bit of in and out."

In fact, 40 percent of Parker's student body has either moved into or out of the school this year alone.

"Out of sight out of mind. Yes, it definitely is," Wallis said. "And I will say that from experience, before coming to Parker, I had no idea that this many students were affected by mobility."

It's a problem in the classroom and for testing. Some students who move around can be an entire grade level behind their peers. Teachers have to teach students at all different levels and dedicate extra time to helping those struggling to stay afloat. That instability can bring down student test scores, which also has an effect on evaluations for teachers and schools.

"There's some factors in teaching that you have no control over and you do the best you can with what you have," Wallis said. "Ultimately at the end of the day, I just want my students to know I love them."

The dynamic of the classroom can also change when students move around, creating behavioral problems.

"It's not a big deal for them to tell the whole class that, you know, their mom or dad got incarcerated last night because it's just part of their life," Kirkman said. "They come to school dirty, they come to school hungry. They come not ready to have academics; that is the last thing on their mind. They're worrying about where are they gonna go and how are they gonna get home today. It's hard to reach a child when that's their main concern."

It's something they wish everyone, including lawmakers, could see with their own eyes.

"I would love for them to come and spend a few days at Parker," Kirkman said. "I think it would change their minds."

Parker has developed ways to deal with it. Each morning, they talk about creating peaceful relationships, while also giving the kids a chance to unload and talk about what's troubling them.

They also give students clean clothing and toothbrushes plus food for the weekend. They work with community partners because they say it's happening more, not less.

School leaders want parents to know this instability does have an effect on their students.

But there are many resources available to help make those students successful, including transportation adjustments and homeless services for students.

Read the original version of this article at wjhg.com.