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Bill Would Address School Barriers for At-Risk Kids

Auberle’s Lydon: Legislation would create a ‘great return on investment’

By Emily Scott © Public News Service
The Tube City Almanac
November 23, 2021
Posted in: McKeesport and Region News

A bill making its way through the Pennsylvania General Assembly would help ensure a smooth transition to graduation for young people who face personal challenges outside of school.

Senate Bill 324 would help address barriers to graduation for kids experiencing homelessness or who are in the foster-care or juvenile-justice systems.

The bill creates a point of contact at the student’s school to help support them as they return to the classroom after time away from the education system.

Young people in foster care “face many barriers,” said John Lydon, chief executive officer of McKeesport-based Auberle, which works with at-risk youth and their families.

“It can be very difficult to get student records on a timely basis, but that is just one hurdle,” Lydon said. “Having a sympathetic person in each district that other agencies working with the young person can contact would be very helpful. Some districts have a point of contact, and it has an impact.”

Advocates say children in the foster-care or juvenile-justice systems or who are experiencing homelessness often have to unexpectedly change schools for a variety of reasons.

Kate Burdick, staff attorney at the Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia, said it can be difficult for families to navigate the process while children are also dealing with possible trauma they experienced while away from home.

“Having an actual human who you know is in charge of helping you to feel more a part of the school community to be making sure you're in the right courses,” Burdick said. “It’s just so important that there’s someone actually tasked with that.”

The point of contact also would immediately request the student's records from the student’s previous school and ensure they are connected with mental-health services.

Auberle’s 412 Youth Zone also spends a good bit of time helping young adults ages 18 to 23 get their graduation equivalency diplomas, or GEDs, “so that they have access to work opportunities with good pay,” Lydon said.

He said Allegheny County does have education liaisons in the Department of Human Services “who are very impactful in surmounting barriers.”

Burdick pointed out when academic credits do not get properly transferred to their new school, it sometimes can lead to a graduation delay, which Senate Bill 324 also aims to address.

“It can be extremely devastating for the young person when they’re trying to reconnect with school, to have this host of system-level barriers put up,” Burdick asserted. “And what we have heard for many years from young people directly is just how completely exasperating this problem is.”

Only 75 percent of Pennsylvania kids in foster care receive their high school diploma or GEDs by age 21 as compared with 92 percent of students in the Commonwealth who are not in the foster-care system, according to 2018 data from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

“Any assistance that we can give to at-risk young people will create a great return on investment to the commonwealth for years to come,” Lydon said.

Senate Bill 324 unanimously passed the Senate in June and passed out of the House Education Committee last week. It now heads to a vote on the House floor.

Emily Scott is a reporter and producer in Philadelphia for Public News Service, where this story first appeared. She previously worked at WHYY, Philadelphia’s NPR station and is a 2018 graduate of Temple University and the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. Jason Togyer, editor of Tube City Almanac, contributed to this report.

Originally published November 23, 2021.

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