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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

A weekend interview about preparing for Haitian students with Myrna Hogue, Hillsborough schools homeless liaison

6

February

Florida schools continue to welcome a growing number of children who are escaping the ruin of Haiti since its major earthquake in January. Myrna Hogue is responsible for coordinating the effort in Hillsborough County schools. She spoke with reporter Jeff Solochek about the district's preparations.

How much of an influx has there been of children from Haiti coming to the school district in Hillsborough?

Currently we only know of a handful of families that have come. We don't see a large influx but we are definitely trying to be prepared ahead of time, so that if more families are coming. We are hearing they are coming into other districts, but they may be coming here.

Who is giving you updates on that? How do they know what to expect?

The Department of Children and Families is coordinating some of the effort along with the Health Department. So we did get word that we might possibly have 17 children coming, from the Department of Children and Families, that are not with their families. But that has not happened yet.

When they come to the school district, where do they go? Do you have specific schools they need to go to? We have every school ready. We sent out a reminder memo of some of our policies that are already in place. The students that come in will be considered homeless under the McKinney-Vento Act.

Even if they are not U.S. citizens?

Yes. Under the McKinney-Vento Act, if they are coming in and they do not have a place to live, they are doubled up, they do not have their own accommodations, it's very unlikely someone is going to be able to afford their own apartment. So basically, if they are staying in shelters, if they are with the Department of Children and Families, if they are staying with relatives, then they would fall under the McKinney-Vento. So our schools are ready to enroll them just like they would enroll any other homeless student. And also, depending on their age, if they are without a parent or guardian, we can classify them as an unaccompanied youth. ... So the schools are prepared they are to let them in without any enrollment records. And our social workers are ready to provide them with any services. You know, if the children need shot records or shots ... they can go to the Health Department. So we are linking them up with services in the community through our social workers.

What about language and other related issues? Cultural issues?

Well, we've gotten a little bit of information ... We had some fliers that were done in Haitian. ... We do have some Haitian workers , whether it's teachers, we have a few social workers. There are Haitian employees in the county. They are coming together and helping us out in this situation. They have helped us review some of the information that has come in Creole to make sure what we're putting out is accurate and that a family could understand it if they read Creole. We also have some people who are willing to help us with translation. We don't really have an official group together yet. But we are working on getting some volunteers from our staff who can help if schools need it.

In Miami there are schools in Little Haiti. They have a whole community there. I didn't know if there is a community here or an attempt to create one here by perhaps putting everyone at the same school and focusing the people who know the language or who know the culture at that one place rather than have them be spread throughout the entire Hillsborough County.

Right. We haven't really done that. Our county is so big geographically. ... If they are coming to stay with relatives in Plant City, we wouldn't want to just have one location. Because they could be coming to anywhere in our county. ... We didn't think that would be effective. We are assessing the needs as they come into the county. We do have quite a few, actually we have a handful of social workers and that's good because they're not tied to any one classroom. They can be available to go to different schools if needed. They're definitely willing to do that.

I know in South Florida they're expecting the numbers to be in the hundreds. You mentioned 17. Is that the number, or are you expecting it to be much bigger than that?

You know, we don't really know. We keep hearing it could be bigger. ... Planes come in with people who are injured, going to hospitals. But we don't know how many people are going to come in. We're just being prepared. ...

Does that make it harder to do?

It does. But I think through pre-planning and putting the system in place and making the administrators at the schools and everyone involved aware that it's a possibility, it will make everything easier when people do come to the schools to enroll. They'll be made to feel welcome and to provide them with services. It is a little bit difficult, but you just have to prepare ahead of time. ...

If there is anybody in the community needing help, is there a number they should call or a place they should go?

If it's directly related to enrolling in school, we do have a homeless education and literacy project.... Their number is (813) 315-4357. That would definitely be a good point of entry. And then there are social workers there and resource teachers. They could direct a family in the right area to the right school. And then also facilitate that collaboration with the school.

Related: Florida Department of Education Haiti relief effort web site

[Last modified: Tuesday, May 25, 2010 10:49am]

    

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