Story by Katie Duer
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs states that if a person’s basic needs, such as food, water and shelter are not being met, then it may be extremely difficult for a person to concentrate on anything else.
This is the reality for children who are homeless or nearly homeless. When a child is consumed with worry about where their next meal will come from or where they will be sleeping that night, how can going to school even be on their radar? Fortunately, for all students in Oklahoma City and surrounding areas there is a solution. A school is taking all of these factors into consideration and helping children with their education. Positive Tomorrows is a school for homeless children, focusing on academics as well as teaching the children social skills by giving them the resources needed to overcome obstacles they may be facing.
The Positive Tomorrows mission is simple: Educate homeless children and their families to break the cycle of poverty.
“Positive Tomorrows is Oklahoma’s only school for homeless children,” Rachel Durham, developmental officer for Positive Tomorrows said. “These children typically live with their families at any given time. About a third of our kids are in the local shelters and that may be the City Rescue Mission, the Salvation Army or the YWCA domestic violence shelter.”
One issue of utmost concern to Durham and Positive Tomorrows is that of safety and security for the children attending this school.
“We keep our location confidential, also we are really careful and keep the building secure,” she said.
They want these children not only to have a safe environment to learn, but to actually feel safe as well.
“We’ve had families living in abandoned buildings and even storage units, whatever parents can do to get their children off the streets and a roof over their head, they will do,” Durham continued, “As you can probably imagine, there are a lot of barriers that make it really tough for our students to be successful in traditional schools.”
Transportation can be one of those obstacles.
“Not only can we provide transportation to and from school every day, but we try and keep up with these families,” Durham said. “If a family has to move in the middle of the night, it can be tough sometimes to find them. Public schools don’t typically have the resources to keep up with these highly mobile students and their families.”
Many of the children are experiencing hunger and food insecurity; Positive Tomorrows provides for the children so that they can focus on learning by providing the children with snacks and two hot meals a day. The school also participates in a food program where they send home food backpacks on Fridays so that the children can have food over the weekend.
Positive Tomorrows provides a backpack on the first day of school with all of the supplies the child might need. They have a closet on site filled with brand new tennis shoes, socks, underwear, deodorant and toothbrushes.
Positive Tomorrows currently serves pre-k through fifth grade and are at full capacity with 74 students. Each classroom has 16 students with a certified teacher as well as an aide. Students receive one-on-one classroom attention, and if a student has a certain deficit they focus on it.
The school’s goal is to get the students caught up academically while they are there. All of Positive Tomorrows’ teachers are trauma-informed. It is common for domestic violence and other trauma to be the leading cause of the homelessness that led them there.
“Our teachers, you don’t hear them yelling at the kids.” Durham said. “They know that if someone is cutting in line in the cafeteria, it is most likely because they’re hungry, not because they’re acting up.”
Positive Tomorrows works to understand the underlying cause behind what some schools might consider behavioral issues.
“Instead of saying ‘What is wrong with you, why are you acting this way?’ Our teachers turn that dialogue internally,” Durham said.
Positive Tomorrows also helps parents understand how to advocate for their children, how to attend parent/teacher conferences and even helps them find careers, aiming at the root causes to ultimately end the cycle of homelessness.
Positive Tomorrows looks at the complete situation at home. They offer extracurricular programs during the summer like swimming lessons and even summer camp. They also have physical education, music, art and a basketball team. The support that these children have at this school and among each other is unprecedented. They are giving children hope again and for some children, they may not have had any hope before.
Positive Tomorrows is a private nonprofit organization. The school is not receiving any public dollars from the Department of Education. Its goal is to raise funds every year to keep the doors open, keep the lights on and keep their school buses running. Positive Tomorrows welcomes all donations. This school that is making a way for children who may be less fortunate. For more information or if you would like to help Positive Tomorrows, visit positivetomorrows.org.
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