As the economy worsens, family challenges become more pronounced. Reports indicate that one in 50 American children are homeless. Child abuse cases are rising. Many families have lost a once strong grasp of a stable, supportive, educative environment to call home. Residential education programs – boarding schools and children’s homes for economically and socially disadvantaged youth – across the country are responding to these challenges.
May 6, 2009 is the first National Residential Education Day in the United States. Across the country, approximately 40 residential education programs will be raising awareness of their services as a crucial option for at-risk children. Programs from Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida to Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and beyond are hosting open house events, bringing student and alumni testimonials to state Capitol Hills, instituting letter-writing campaigns to state legislators, holding month-long inspirational speaker series for students, and making “A Day in the Life of…” films to spread awareness of this valuable education alternative.
Whether called a prep program, children’s home, boarding, or more recently residential charter school, residential education is an umbrella term for community-like settings where at-risk children live and learn together, outside of their homes, within stable, supportive environments. Long recognized as a desirable model for children from more affluent families, residential education is a viable and important option for thousands of children nationwide.
In the U.S. each year residential education programs serve over 10,000 children who are severely challenged by homelessness, abuse, neglect, and low-income, high-crime neighborhoods, and they have an impressive outcome: 80% of graduates go on to attend two- and four-year colleges.
“Children need, at a minimum, physical and emotional safety, and a quality education. They need to belong to a nurturing community, to understand their potential, and a supportive structure to grow in,” says Heidi Goldsmith, founder and executive director of Washington, DC-based CORE: the Coalition for Residential Education, the organization spearheading National Residential Education Day. “Ideally, that structure is a good family. But if that is not possible at this point in a child’s life, a well-run RE program education can provide for a child’s needs.”
With an average length of stay of two years and funded privately or through a public-private partnership, residential education is a growing trend that transforms the lives of children on the margins.
September 2006 federal foster care legislation added residential education as a valid placement option for children in the child welfare system, and as a viable alternative to traditional foster care homes, in addition to a place where other at-risk children live and learn, so that they can become productive citizens.
Alumnus Michael Jones says, “I would not be where I am today without the help and influence of the caring staff, teachers, and houseparents at Crossnore. What is so amazing is that for any other person, there are roadblocks to the things I have done and want to do. For me, these roadblocks just kind of disappeared because Crossnore gave me these opportunities.” Enrolling in Crossnore School in 2004 after his family faced financial crisis and his once stable home unraveled, Michael graduated last year and, after working for the Obama presidential campaign, is now a freshman at New York University.
For information about residential education, contact CORE: the Coalition for Residential Education, 301-656-6101 or www.residentialeducation.org.
Editor’s note : This article reached us before the National Residential Education Day, but just after the May edition of the webmag had been published; we hope the day went well. Maybe next year other countries would like to join in.