Housing Important for Keeping Children in School

07 November 2023

Last year, 40 percent of students in Los Angeles public schools missed more than 10 percent of the school year.

That information comes from the Los Angeles Unified School District, which says about 429,000 students are enrolled in its schools.

In addition to the attendance numbers, the district's website says its officials did not know where 2,500 students were. These students stopped attending class and did not appear to enroll anywhere else.

Deneffy S<I>&#</I>225;nchez, left, looks at his smartphone on a bunk bed he shares with his mother, Lilian Lopez, right, and sister, Jennifer, in a shared studio apartment in Los Angeles, Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Deneffy S&#225;nchez, left, looks at his smartphone on a bunk bed he shares with his mother, Lilian Lopez, right, and sister, Jennifer, in a shared studio apartment in Los Angeles, Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Elmer Roldan is executive director of Communities in Schools of Los Angeles, a nonprofit group that aims to keep children in school. He said, "Housing is the biggest reason kids aren't going to school or we can't find them."

The Associated Press (AP) recently reported on a case of one of those children whose housing situation led to problems at school.

Fifteen-year-old Deneffy Sánchez has faced housing problems with his family for years. An AP reporter spoke with the teenager and his family.

Deneffy lives with his mother Lilian Lopez and a 3-year-old sister. Lopez had been having a hard time keeping up with monthly rent payments in an earlier apartment. So the family of three shared a small living space with Fabiola Del Castillo, someone they did not know.

As they fell behind on rent payments again, Del Castillo wanted to give up the apartment and pressured the family to leave. To fight the threat of losing their home, Deneffy stayed in the apartment — and missed school.

Federal data shows that the majority of students the government considers "homeless" have a place to stay. But the situation is often complex with shared roommates and an unsure future. In Los Angeles, the city's superintendent said last spring that 13,000 students were homeless and 2,000 of them stayed in city shelters.

In Deneffy's case, his family was struggling to stay in their small apartment. His father has not been with them. His mother immigrated from Guatemala 22 years ago. In 2020, after his mother gave birth to Jennifer, his sister, the family was homeless.

That year, schools across the country closed because of the spread of COVID-19. Deneffy tried to attend seventh-grade classes online through Zoom but said he could not pay attention. "I felt like they were judging me," he said.

By ninth grade, classes became more difficult, and his family did not have internet service at home. Deneffy's grades crashed. His school offered help with homework. But AP reported the boy said that he really wanted a therapist.

Deneffy spoke to the school's "psychiatric social worker" to see if she could help him get mental health counseling. But demand for such help increased sharply during the pandemic.

In 2021, an opinion study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 42 percent of high school students said they felt sad or hopeless a lot compared to 28 percent ten years before.

After leaving the apartment shared with Castillo, Deneffy's family had another bad experience sharing a place. Then they found a place where they could live without roommates through an old friend. The apartment is small and costs $1250 to rent each month. That is more than Deneffy's mother makes from government assistance and cleaning jobs.

The 15-year-old now has a laptop computer provided by the school and a wireless connection to help with schoolwork. He has the most trouble with writing. "I never know where to put the commas and other punctuation," he said.

He also sees a therapist at school once a week. But he is worried that his family's new living situation might change. His mother needs to find a full-time job to meet the rent payments.

Speaking of his mother, Deneffy says she tells him not to worry. "But I do," he said. "What if we don't have money, and we get kicked out again?"

I'm Mario Ritter, Jr.

Bianca Vásquez Toness reported this story for the Associated Press. Mario Ritter, Jr. adapted it for VOA Learning English.


Words in This Story

enrolled –adj. to be accepted into a school and fully able to attend classes

rent –n. the regular payment for living in or using a property or equipment you do not own

therapist –n. a person trained to treat sickness generally without the use of drugs or medical operations

psychiatric –adj. related to the branch of medicine targeting emotional and mental disorders

punctuation –n. the marks between words that make it easier to read and understand writing