Program helps students in homelessness

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  • | 11:30 a.m. November 12, 2015
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  • West Orange Times & Observer
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It’s expensive to be a high school senior.

The year requires a bunch of purchases — large and small — that add up. College application fees. Cap and gown. Tickets to Homecoming and prom. Formal attire to wear to the dances.

With tight finances at home, these costs can be hard to justify.

“Every kid should be able to go to their prom or Homecoming,” said Lisa “Tinker” Marsh, who coordinates the McKinney-Vento program at Dr. Phillips High School.

Marsh, the administration and other volunteers at Dr. Phillips are working to make this a reality — for more than just seniors.


The federal McKinney-Vento program extends to all public schools. The program helps students who are homeless, defined as lacking a place at night that is “fixed, regular and adequate.”

Through this program, schools are required to identify students who lack a permanent residence and enroll them in school, even without the documentation typically required for enrollment. In this way, the law protects students whose documents have been damaged in a disaster, such as a fire.

Transportation is crucial for students in the program. If students are moved to a shelter or other temporary housing during the year, students are provided transportation and are able to stay at the school they attended before they became homeless.

These students are also automatically added to the free-and-reduced lunch program.

Anything more that schools do for students in the program goes beyond the requirement, said Christina Savino, a program specialist for homeless education programs with Orange County Public Schools.


About 50 students who walk the halls of Dr. Phillips High School are enrolled in the program, which stresses confidentiality. Last year, Orange County had 6,800 students in the program by the end of the year.

“You just don’t know unless there’s a reason for you to know,” Marsh said.

The food bank at Dr. Phillips started within a few years of the school’s opening in 1987. With the help of the federal program, generous students, administrators and parents, the program has grown at Dr. Phillips.

Last year, Marsh started a graduation cap and gown recycling program, so students in the program don’t have to pay for these.

A prom dress bank allows students to get the clothing they need to attend formal events. The faculty at Dr. Phillips donates old bridesmaid and prom dresses. A few teachers take in dress shirts and ties.

The classes and student government are also supporting the program. At this year’s Homecoming and prom, students and faculty get $5 off their ticket to the event if they donate a dress or dress shirt to the bank.

On the night of the event, the school has a room students in the program can use as a fitting room and place to do their hair and makeup.

The program provided juniors and seniors prom tickets, as well.

“It’s a great community that’s trying to help people out there,” Marsh said.

The PTSA also contributes to the students in the programs. Last year, the president of the organization gave Marsh a full-size refrigerator to hold any leftover food from school events.

“Kids can come by when they either didn’t eat or were still kind of hungry,” she said.

The organization recently donated take-home bags filled with rice, soup, vegetables and other food items. The students each got a gift card and some hot pizza.

The student government organization also contributes, by holding food and school supply drives.

And those college application fees? Seniors can get help with that, too.

Contact Jennifer Nesslar at [email protected].


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