NEW YORK — Outside a homeless shelter in the south Bronx, Heaven scrolls through her classroom assignments on an iPad as her mom watches.

“I better not see no missed work. I’m going to check before we go in,” her mom, Nicole Nunnally, warned her.

What You Need To Know

  • More than 111,000 students were homeless during the last school year, including Heaven, 10, and Jordan, 11

  • They now live in a shelter in the Bronx, where they are having a hard time getting online to do their school work

  • Students experiencing homelessness already have worse educational outcomes than their peers

  • Experts say the pandemic will make matters worse

But it isn’t easy for Heaven, 10, to complete her work. The shelter doesn’t get good cellular service, making it hard to log on with her classmates.

“I can’t do my work if it doesn’t load,” she said.

Heaven and her brother Jordan, 11, are two of the more than 111,000 public school students who experienced homelessness at some point during the last school year. The tally, announced Thursday by the group Advocates for Children, is based on an analysis of state data.

About 73,000 of those children are living doubled-up in temporary shared housing situations that are often unstable, like crashing with friends or relatives in crowded apartments.  

And just under 32,000 of those children were living in shelters, like Heaven and Jordan.

“Before the pandemic, only 29% of students who are homeless were reading on grade level, and outcomes are even worse for students who are in shelter,” said Randi Levine, the policy director of Advocates for Children. "So we’re extremely concerned about the learning loss that is happening now."

Heaven and Jordan have been learning remotely during the coronavirus pandemic. Until this week, they were living in a shelter on Staten Island -- far from their school in the Bronx. With the help of Advocates for Children, they were moved to a different shelter in the Bronx. 

But like many other students in shelters, Heaven and Jordan have been struggling to get online. Shelters generally do not have wireless internet available for residents to use, so the city instead issued these students iPads that come with cellular data service — meant to allow them to get online without wifi the same way a smart phone does.

But the problem is many shelters get terrible cell reception — and upon moving to the Bronx this week, they discovered their new shelter is one of them.

“They’re kicking them out the Google Classroom, it’s not loading their work. It’s really difficult,” Nunnally said.

After months of complaints from other families who haven’t been able to get online in shelter buildings, the city now says it will install WiFi in shelters.

But that won’t be done until this summer. Until then, students like Jordan will be kept waiting — literally.

“It takes forever to do the next thing you’re doing,” he explained. "It’s like it doesn’t want to work."

He’s not alone. Advocates for Children says getting a good education has only gotten harder for homeless students since the pandemic began.

“We heard about students who tried for 20 minutes to download a two-minute lesson — and when that happens, eventually you give up,” Levine said.

The city education department says it’s committed to providing homeless students a high quality education, and are working with groups like Advocates for Children to provide caring, supportive environments whether students are remote or attending school in person.


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