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Foster Care, Prison, Homelessness: A Hard Look at Teaching Vulnerable Students

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Homeless shelters, foster homes, juvenile detention centers, schools with high immigrant populations—we find our most vulnerable students in these places, as well as in school districts and classrooms across the country. In the special report "Teaching Vulnerable Students," Education Week examines these students, their needs, and the challenges schools face in engaging them in learning.

Among the biggest challenges in educating the 50,000 incarcerated students who live behind bars is finding and keeping good people to teach them. "Recognizing that teachers need to be certified and trained not just on their content areas but also on the unique needs of youths who are in a juvenile justice setting is critical," said Kate Burdick, a staff attorney at the Philadelphia-based Juvenile Law Center. Schools inside juvenile justice facilities compete with traditional districts to attract teachers over professional development and support. The Education Week Research Center analyzed how much time students actually spend learning in the classroom at U.S. correctional schools. In some places, it's as little as 6 hours per week. 

For one school in the juvenile justice system, there's a focus on providing more training and support for teachers. The teachers at The Wyoming Girls School, located in the remote Bighorn Mountains in Sheridan, Wyo., are trained in trauma-informed care—allowing them to connect and develop meaningful relationships with students, as reporter Sarah Sparks writes.

More than 1.3 million students are classified as homeless, and of those students, 18 percent are classified as having disabilities. Reporter Christina Samuels explains how schools are working to overcome the particular challenges these students at the intersection of the McKinney-Vento Act, Every Student Succeeds Act, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act are facing.

Jordon Marshelle Barrett is one of the nearly 274,000 students who was in foster care in 2016. Moving around from different shelters and group homes caused the now-straight-A student to suffer academically. As the number of children in the foster-care system increases, organizations like Treehouse in Washington are working to improve foster students' graduation rates.

And reporter Corey Mitchell spoke with educators who are still struggling with how to best support immigrant students, as uncertainty remains around policies for undocumented youth. Mitchell explores how schools across the country, from Massachusetts to California, are utilizing community resources to help keep students safe and focused in the classroom.

Check out the full report here

Image: Students practice handshake techniques as they learn about applying for jobs during an independent-living course at the school.—Kristina Barker for Education Week
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