Poster campaign wins national award
EVERETT - A group of Evergreen Middle School seventh graders set out to teach their fellow students that they don’t have to change schools if they move away because they’re homeless.
They designed a poster that talks about a federal law that says public schools can’t discriminate against homeless children. One of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act provisions says schools must provide transportation for homeless students to their original school when they’re forced to move away because of their situation.
Their message is simple but clear: “You Can Stay.”
The students recently learned their poster campaign won a national competition held by the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth. The award was given at the association’s conference in New Mexico last week.
The Anchorage School District is considering using the poster within its district, an Anchorage district spokeswoman said. Other districts may be interested as well.
The students are excited to see their work recognized around the country. They’re now eighth graders and their awareness of the national homeless situation is growing.
“It showed us we won’t stop here,” Lukas Poischbeg, 13, said. “It will always be in the district and in our hearts.”
Mariana Nabor-Vazquez, 14, hopes the group’s effort might inspire other kids in other districts to do something similar. She thinks the project could extend to helping families remain stable.
“It’s really cool we’ve gone this far,” Nabor-Vazquez said. “I hope other kids learn from us and make a difference, too.”
“We want to tell the kids there’s always a way out,” she said.
Christie Luttrell, 14, used her knowledge of the McKinney-Vento Act to help one of her friends at Evergreen stay instead of having to transfer to North Middle School.
“I ran to my room and grabbed the poster and showed her,” Luttrell said.
With their advisor Kendall Berry, the students learned advertising techniques and made new kid-friendly posters promoting McKinney-Vento last spring. The 1990s-era posters for McKinney-Vento doesn’t grab kids’ attention, they said.
They were able to get the posters onto Everett Transit buses and at some Everett businesses.
The Everett School District has more than 350 students utilizing McKinney-Vento right now, district homeless liaison Mary Ellen Hardy said. The number grows during the school year. Last year the district had more than 500 students utilizing McKinney-Vento. Two hundred of those kids lived in shelters.
What’s important is that last year the number grew steadily, suggesting students are staying in school, Hardy said.
The students are thinking about entering more contests to get their poster out to a national audience. They say they aren’t excited by fame or winning contests, they’re excited to get the word out to help other students know about McKinney-Vento.
The group of four is still working together, but their counselor Berry has transferred to Everett High School this year. They’re working with Evergreen staff members on more projects.
Their group’s efforts “may take a life of its own,” Berry said.
It is also important to them on a personal level. Some of the students in the group repeatedly moved schools and have experienced being homeless firsthand.
The kids are more aware of homelessness on the national level now more than ever.
As sixth graders, we were “clueless,” Luttrell said. “At eighth grade, we’re learning about adult things. We’re finally in the loop about (adult issues such as) the homeless.”
Luttrell sees cars parked at odd hours and suspects there may be homeless kids sleeping in them.
“I think as eighth graders now I think the issue of homelessness has sunk in more,” Poischbeg said.
Henrik Kiaer, 13, hopes the president will see the poster and do something about homelessness.
“The more we grow, the more we learn,” Luttrell said.
As part of the project, the students unofficially adopted an Everett homeless shelter. They conducted a book drive to fill the library at The Family Shelter in Everett with 600 new books. They also raised $500 to buy two new computers for the shelter, which is run by the Interfaith Association of Northwest Washington.
Interfaith’s director Mary Ellen Wood was elated to hear the poster won when told last week.
Luttrell is a former resident of The Family Shelter. What she’s accomplished empowers the other 40 to 48 families who stay at the shelter each year, Wood said.
“It’s inspiring, assuring and assists in the development of hope,” Wood said. “A middle school kid, to step out and say, ‘I lived in an emergency homeless shelter?’ Not many adults would do that. It’s beyond admirable to step out and try to do something” about homelessness.
Luttrell also won a Mayor’s Youth Achievement Award in the summer.
Hardy beams with excitement on how far their message is going.
“I’m very proud; I get a little sliver of a tingle of what they’ve accomplished,” Hardy said.
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