Homeless teens at West Jordan high schools have a friend and advocateMay 08, 2023 03:05PM ● By Peri Kinder
Pantries at West Jordan high schools provide food, clothing, personal care items and other resources for teens struggling with homelessness or food insecurity. (Photo courtesy of Milonie Taylor)
West Jordan high schools don’t have many homeless students, but the McKinney Vento representatives at Copper Hills High and West Jordan High believe even one homeless student is too many.
McKinney Vento is a federal program that allows schools to help homeless students who might not have the support they need to succeed. Sometimes these students are living in shared-housing situations with other family members, or living in motels or shelters, or couch surfing at friends’ houses.
Milonie Taylor at Copper Hills High and Robyn Luke at West Jordan High are McKinney Vento representatives, serving as liaisons for these students. Luke said the job has been life changing.
“I have learned so many things from the point of view of what it’s like to be desperate, to be overwhelmed and want things and not know where to go and have compassion on those who are different,” she said. “You don’t know what they’re going through.”
The program is intended to ensure students living in homeless situations keep their education stable, continue to attend classes and graduate. When teens register for school, a parent checks the box that says they are in a homeless situation. Part of Taylor and Luke’s job is to find out if the family is truly homeless and if it’s temporary or ongoing.
They hold one-on-one meetings with these students to make sure they are keeping up on school work and encourage them to stay focused on graduation by checking grades and attendance. The program allows teens to stay at their school of choice, even when the family is displaced.
“It’s tough when you grow up wanting stability and structure and those things are taken away. It affects your thinking and affects wanting to get up and be here,” Taylor said. “There’s the stigma of it and they don’t want anyone to know. They just want to be regular teens.”
Along with school support, Taylor and Luke provide food, clothing, personal hygiene items, computer access for homework and a washer and dryer so students can clean their clothes. There are even sleeping bags and two-man tents available for teens who are truly homeless. Local groups organize coat drives or food drives to keep the pantries stocked at the high schools.
Luke shared the story of a student body officer who had no food in her home. She would come to the pantry every day to get food to sustain her throughout the day. She fast-tracked through college and was accepted into Harvard University.
“The hardest thing for me is knowing students are going home hungry because they’re either too shy to come in, which is often the case, or they don’t know we’re here,” Luke said.
The McKinney Vento program has shown great success in Jordan District. Taylor said CHHS has a 100% graduation rate for students in the program. She credits the high school staff with making sure teens who need help get directed to her office.
“All the office ladies here and the administrators and counselors are amazing, the teachers are amazing. It’s almost immediate. We find a kid who needs attention, and they get attention,” she said.
What Taylor and Luke need is more awareness of the program. They are grateful for donations of every kind but ask that people reach out to them at [email protected] and [email protected] to see what the teens need.
Currently, both schools are in need of snacks, Cup Noodles, mac and cheese cups, fruit snacks, brownie and cake mixes, pancake mix and syrup, shampoo and conditioner and jackets of all sizes.
“I see miracles every day,” Luke said. “I guess what I love is seeing the great hearts of so many people. People want to give; they just need to know where and how. They’re so generous.” λ