By: Doann Tran
Douglas County is the seventh richest county in the United States. With a reputation like this, the general public may be surprised to learn that even in these affluent suburbs are families experiencing homelessness.
In fact, last school year 17 homeless students attended Legend High School. These students did not stand out. No one could have guessed that they were dealing with a whole other level of stress than their teenage peers.
To Dawna Searcy, the Homeless Student Services Liaison for Douglas County Schools, that just means that she’s doing her job right, incorporating them back into the system without drawing too much attention to the issue.
Searcy started her career in Tennessee as a teacher after obtaining a Master’s degree in school counseling. She moved to Colorado and landed a job as a Spanish teacher in Douglas County. After that, she heard about a different kind of job opening in the district and decided to work in Homeless Student Services, a job that utilizes her counseling degree.
“Every school district in the United States has to have somebody who does my job. The person before me was leaving, so I applied and I got it,” Searcy said.
A major part of her job is to administer “Title 10” of the “No Child Left Behind Act.” which is federal legislation for how public schools are run and funded. The goal of this act is to basically incorporate homeless students into public school systems such as finding a way to enroll them without an address or a stable living environment.
“It’s not a job for everybody. For sure. I’m always really, really happy to see the number of kids who just really want to be in school, even if it’s a runaway teen,” Searcy said.
Searcy’s responsibility is to make sure school goes well for these students.
“We make sure they are able to eat at school, go on field trips with other students, attend graduation ceremonies, apply for sports, and obtain all the basic supplies and materials needed when they’re enrolled,” Searcy said.
Searcy emphasizes that a homeless student is basically by himself when attending school. For example, if the student got sick, woke up late, or missed his transportation, no one will be there to call the school to say what happened. Of course, it’s not the student’s fault and the school shouldn’t punish the student for being homeless.
“Part of the biggest thing is making sure the school understands that a student won’t have a parent or guardian around to sign things for them,” Searcy added.
Searcy explains that school in general is a safe place for kids for eight hours a day. It’s a safe environment to be in since all the students are being fed, protected, and kept busy with many entertaining activities.
“That’s eight hours a day that they’re not in a dysfunctional environment someplace else. There’s people here, adults watching over them,” Searcy said.