- Associated Press - Sunday, November 2, 2014

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - A record number of homeless students are attending West Virginia’s public schools.

According to the National Center for Homeless Education, more than 8,300 students were labeled as homeless in West Virginia last school year, up about 9 percent from the year before.

About 70 percent of those students are living with grandparents or several family members in close quarters, while about 25 percent are living in shelters, and the rest are on the streets or living in motels.

About five years ago, only about 2,000 students qualified as homeless in the state’s schools, Rebecca Derenge, the state’s homeless education coordinator, told The Charleston Gazette (http://bit.ly/1zZspuq ). And Derenge believes the latest numbers are even higher due to under-reporting.

“In West Virginia, it’s a cultural thing. They’re afraid that if they’re identified, the children might be removed from the home. There’s a stigma still associated with doubling up,” she said. “Just by being defined as homeless, a child is at risk. For many reasons, their stability is impacted.”

Each year the state receives more than $300,000 in federal grants to provide shelters with tutors and after-school programs, which Derenge said is possibly the most successful attempt at helping homeless students stay on track in school. The money also helps with everything from a filled backpack to a graduation gown or field trip costs.

Despite the federal assistance, only about half of students labeled as homeless in the state hit proficient marks in reading and math on standardized tests, according to the National Center for Homeless Education. And when it comes to academic achievement, providing students with a safe environment so that they can focus on school work is crucial, said Margaret Taylor, director of the YWCA Sojourner’s Shelter for Homeless Women and Families.

“Do you think these kids are more worried about school or where they’re going to get their next meal and whether they’ll have a safe place to sleep tonight?” Taylor said. “Many of these kids’ classmates don’t know they’re living in a homeless situation - but they know it. And that affects them and makes them automatically feel different.”

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Information from: The Charleston Gazette, http://www.wvgazette.com

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