Back to School at Covenant House GA

Back to School at Covenant House GA

Bright minds all across the Atlanta area are ready to learn as a new school year begins – including the young minds at Covenant House Georgia (CHGA)! We sat down with Dr. Nichole Murray, our Educational Researcher and Lead Instructor, to learn more about her work here at CHGA and the issues that youth experiencing homelessness face when it comes to their education. Dr. Nichole got involved at CHGA through her PhD work in Social Foundations of Education, which she earned from the University of Georgia. She spends her days working with our youth to help them achieve their educational goals! Here’s what she had to say:

Q: How did you get involved at CHGA?
 I started at CHGA in 2016 as a volunteer and intern working with youth who were interested in attending college. At the time, I was working on my dissertation researching educational experiences of youth ages 18-24 who experience homelessness. I came to CHGA to learn more about the people whose experiences I was studying and ensure that their voices were heard. I was happy to have the opportunity to become a CHGA employee in 2018, so I could continue helping youth achieve their education goals. 

Q: What does your work at CHGA entail?
A: As the Educational Researcher and Lead instructor at CHGA, I work with youth to connect them to education resources and opportunities such as GED prep, high school enrollment, and post-secondary options. 

Q: How did you become interested in the educational experiences of homeless youth?
A:  I wasn't originally interested in pursuing a career in education. I got my undergraduate degree in Biology & Psychology and worked for over 10 years in the medical field. I then transitioned into a job working with youth in crisis, which is where I first saw a disconnect between education, the Juvenile Justice System and youth experiencing homelessness. It was during this time that I decide to pursue a Master's degree in Educational Psychology and then shortly after a PhD in Social Foundations of Education. During my studies, I remember reading an article about “invisible students” which focused on youth experiencing homelessness and education. I decided to make this topic my focus for my dissertation because there was not a lot of existing research on the topic, especially for African-American youth between 18-24 years old.   

Q: Can you tell us about the McKinney-Vento Act?
A: The McKinney-Vento Act is the only federal policy that addresses the impacts of homelessness on a young person's education. The purpose is to eliminate barriers for school enrollment from pre-K to 12th grade. The goal is to alleviate gaps in an individual’s education experience.

Q: What are some of the school enrollment barriers that exist for youth experiencing homelessness and how does the McKinney-Vento Act work to break these barriers down?
 One major barrier is access to documentation.  Many youth don’t have the required documentation (i.e. birth certificate, social security card, ID, immunizations, bills for proof of residency, etc) due to moving around from place to place, getting it stolen in a shelter, having little parent involvement, being an unaccompanied minor, etc. This act allows students to enroll in school without documentation and gives them a time-frame to get the required documentation turned in. 

Another major barrier is transportation. If a youth doesn’t have stable housing, getting to and from school can be very difficult. This act makes it so if a youth has to leave their school district to live in a shelter (or other living situation), the school district has to work with the district where the youth currently is to coordinate transportation to and from school. The youth also has the opportunity to go to school in their district of origin (there is a mileage limit to how far the districts can be from each other). The transportation provided can be different from state to state -- in Georgia, schools typically provide school bus transportation or MARTA cards.

Q: What’s your favorite success story from your time at Covenant House Georgia?
 There was a youth I worked with who really wanted to go to college. She was facing housing and transportation barriers, but was determined to attend college. The youth and I worked together to complete the FAFSA. I was able to get her campus housing fee deferred so she could still live on campus. I felt like a proud mother at her college orientation day when I helped her get everything situated for financial aid and her classes. This youth just completed her first semester at Georgia Perimeter College where she passed all of her classes, she is working and has stable housing, and she got her own car! 

Help support our youth in their education journeys by donating to our Back to School Campaign. 

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