SHREWSBURY – After homeless families were placed in Shrewsbury over the spring and summer, Superintendent Joe Sawyer and Assistant Superintendent for Finance and Operations Christian Girardi gave the School Committee an update on Sept. 6 on the influx of homeless students in the school system.
There are roughly 80 families currently residing in lodging facilities in town.
“All Shrewsbury Public School students are our students, regardless of where they live in town or how long they have been here,” Sawyer reiterated multiple times during the meeting. “Whether you’re a fourth-generation Shrewsbury family or you moved in yesterday, our obligation is to provide the best public education we possibly can to every student.”
The lodging facility accounts for 49 additional students. The number of these students is expected to remain stable for the foreseeable future, according to district officials.
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Of the 49 students, 14 attend Maj. Howard W. Beal School, 19 attend Floral Street School, five attend Sherwood Middle School, five attend Oak Middle School and six attend Shrewsbury High School.
The students are mostly younger — 14 of the students are in kindergarten — but outside of kindergarten, there are roughly two to three students per grade level.
“The overall impact of most grades across the system is pretty de minimis in terms of the numbers,” Sawyer said.
Sawyer described several challenges with supporting these students. The majority of the students are non-English speaking and require additional resources to attain academic-level English proficiency.
No local money will be spent educating the students. The district will be receiving reimbursement and funding from other sources, including $900,000 from the Expanded Homeless Shelter Funding Program and $49,000 in additional grants. The current estimated cost to support the students — which includes the hiring of bilingual instructional aides, behavior analysis technicians, and a part-time homeless family coordinator — amount to roughly $570,000.
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An additional 10 students are being transported to other districts across Massachusetts. The program helps students who started their education elsewhere in Massachusetts complete their education in one district.
Sawyer and Girardi emphasized that while accommodating these students can be resource intensive, the coordination is worthwhile. The district is committed to ensuring each and every student — migrant or not — receives an exceptional education.
“These kids are our kids. I’ve been incredibly impressed with what the district has done to support these kiddos, many of whom have had really difficult life experiences,” said School Committee member Lynsey Heffernan.
The students were provided with summer programming and were encouraged to be active in the school community and potentially try out for sports teams.