Your support for the youth in our programs is making a big difference as we begin a new year of assisting youth through virtual schooling. We spoke with Meghan Huebner, Vice President of Residential Programs, to learn more about how virtual learning is going for youth in our programs and the unique challenges presented this year. To hear more of our conversation with Meghan listen to the latest episode of our podcast, the last one of this season, available today!
Can you tell us more about what we’re expecting for virtual learning this year for the youth in our programs?
Meghan: There are a lot of challenges, and with any situation there’s also a lot of opportunity. I hope that a lot has been learned from the end of last year and we’re working on getting students connected with whatever technology they need. It’s hard in shared living situations to find that focus and quiet space, and especially now with the fall schooling being four days a week. That’s a lot of uninterrupted time that we’re asking youth to find, especially when you have more youth at home.
What are we looking to do to support youth learning virtually?
Meghan: We’ve set up space at Second Story for Teens in Crisis so that youth who are accessing those services will be able to have access to their online schooling while also not interrupting each other. We’re working on balancing the supervision as well as trying to help them be able to focus on their schoolwork.
Two of the main ways that youth find out about us is through school counselors or homeless liaisons. Now that youth aren’t in school, how are youth hearing about us?
Meghan: It’s definitely a concern. We’ve seen a drop in the number of calls and inquiries for all of our residential programs for new clients. I think that CPS has seen the same thing – a huge dropoff in the number of calls because people who often come in contact with youth in need are not doing so in the same ways. School is obviously a big one, but even doctors offices — people aren’t going in as regularly as before. We’ve seen, even though the need is greater, fewer people who are reaching out because there’s an element of uncertainty – people don’t necessarily want to enter a shared living situation if they don’t have to. And the people who reach out to us have such a higher level of crisis and need because they are more desperate. They truly have nowhere else to go.
In looking at the longer term, we’re asking ourselves what shifts can we make to reach out to more youth while keeping youth and staff as safe as possible. We’re participating in more virtual activities as the groups we partner with have shifted to virtual options as well. We normally gather with counselors for an in-person meeting to inform them about our services, but this year we’re setting up a ‘virtual table’ and they will have links to our services online instead. Hopefully staff in other programs are accessing the resources they need about referring youth to our programs, too. And hopefully the more youth we stay in contact with and the more that they stay in contact with their friends, they’ll be able to refer their friends to us when they hear about someone having a really tough time.
This situation is so challenging for every family. What do you think families in Fairfax County need to understand about the challenges of youth in our programs versus the also challenging situation that the average family is in?
Meghan: It’s hard for everyone in different ways, though I’m concerned that any disparities that existed before are going to be increased.
The big fear is that youth who are already in an advantaged position, like having families who can access and afford tutors, is going to result in the gap widening for other disadvantaged youth. For example, kids desks are sold out for two months. You can pay $1,000 for one to show up to you in a day, but not everyone can do that. Schools are working to get tangible resources out to kids, and in terms of feeding youth, so many kids have been getting meals at school. There’s a lot of effort on the school’s side.
Special education and English as a Second Language – a lot of our youth fall into those categories – makes virtual learning especially challenging, no matter how many supports are there to make it as engaging or relevant as possible. There are chunks of youth who are going to be, unfortunately and perhaps significantly, behind after this school year. It’s almost a no-win situation for many groups.
We’ve consistently had 100% of seniors in our programs graduate from high school, which is very encouraging for us because the stats on youth experiencing homelessness and graduation are very poor. We also typically have several youth who go on to college, and this year we don’t have any. Can you talk about some of these long-term ramifications for our youth?
Meghan: A lot of people are being forced to make hard choices and to commit to school when the chances are high that you could lose your employment for these youth is a big risk, or even just not knowing in what manner you’re going to start school. The fear of moving away presents even more unknowns now.
There’s been a lot of talk about challenges this season. To end on a hopeful note, what things have been encouraging for you during this time?
Meghan: A lot of things! Seeing how responsive people in the community have been to our requests is encouraging. Staff appreciate the things they’re able to do for youth more, too. When you scrounge through everything and find just the right things a young person asked for – that’s rewarding. In the past, the idea that people could be excited over hand soap was unusual, but from that to the opportunity to maintain their housing, youth are so thankful. For them to stay housed and for us to be able to do that is a big feeling of accomplishment.
We’re so grateful for your support as we navigate a year of uncertainty. To hear more of our conversation with Meghan listen to our last episode of this season of the podcast.