Of the many barriers facing America’s homeless children, inadequate education is perhaps the most devastating. American Family Inns in New York City provides a comprehensive, education-based residential environment that supports the entire family, offering programs such as the Brownstone School, an accelerated after-school program that supplements homeless children’s public school education. Through the various programs it offers, American Family Inns creates the potential for making a real change in the lives of homeless children and their families. This chapter describes this highly effective model that has helped put children in New York City back on the track to educational success.
Perhaps the largest single factor affecting the undereducation of homeless children is the undereducation of homeless parents. New York City data are consistent with the national picture: they indicate that most homeless parents have had little access to educational opportunities. The vast majority of homeless parents in New York lack even basic skills: 62 percent do not have a high school diploma, and 60 percent have no work experience of any kind. On average, these homeless parents left school after the 10th grade, and most read at or below the 6th-grade level (Homes for the Homeless 1995). For many, the lack of basic literacy and math skills can make tasks such as completing a school registration form, understanding a report card, or reading a parents’ newsletter almost impossible. Children of poorly educated parents suffer on several levels. In addition to having to withstand economic deprivation, they also are at a much greater risk of undereducation (National Center for Children in Poverty 1992:6). Data from the Children’s Defense Fund, the Ford Foundation, and other organizations show that students whose parents have less than a high school education consistently score lower on standardized math and reading tests than students whose parents have graduated from high school (Finlay et al.: 107).
One factor contributing to this correlation is less-educated parents’ lack of involvement in their children’s schooling (Halpern 1990). Homeless parents in particular tend