Every year, approximately 3,000 children in Cincinnati Public Schools experience homelessness. Activities Beyond the Classroom is proud to be a long-time partner and supporter of Project Connect, the group that focuses solely on supporting these children. Project Connect provides advocacy paired with specialized educational services and lifestyle enrichment opportunities to ensure that the children in their care have access to the same resources as their peers.
While shelters and families can help lend basic human needs for homeless children, Project Connect helps provide for the educational needs of the children, in ways such as providing clothing, school supplies and backpacks, providing transportation for the students to attend school events, arranging access to a free lunch program, and so much more.
Project Connect does not stop implementing services for the CPS children when the school year ends. Rather, they offer a six-week Summer Academic and Enrichment Program, providing their students with a fun, safe environment to continue learning and developing skills for the future.
ABC recently had the pleasure of speaking with the Director of Project Connect, Rebeka Beach, who was kind enough to answer a few questions that detail more of the awesome things Project Connect is doing for the children.
What is it that Project Connect does?
Children are the largest growing segment of the homeless population, with a reported 2.5-3 million children experiencing homelessness each year. Current data reported by the National Center on Homelessness estimates that at least 1 out of every 30 children living within the United States are experiencing homelessness—and this number continues to rise. The federal McKinney Vento Law mandates that local education agencies (LEAs) ensure that students identified as experiencing homelessness are afforded equal educational opportunities as their non-homeless peers. Project Connect is the Cincinnati Public school program serving children who lack a fixed, permanent or adequate nighttime residency. The Project Connect department continues to grow in our ability to provide academic and social emotional supports in an attempt to mitigate the adverse impact of childhood experiences that are out of their control.
How did Project Connect start?
Project Connect began operating in 1997 under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Act. The goal of the program is to remove educational barriers for children and youth experiencing homelessness by providing students with immediate access to the free, appropriate public education to which they are entitled. In 2005, Project Connect began operating a Summer Academic and Enrichment program to serve students residing in local shelters. The summer program has continued to grow, striving to prevent summer learning loss and provide students with a summer where they are able to have new experiences and learn in a fun and loving environment.
How many children does Project Connect serve throughout the school year?
Approximately 3,000 students
How many children does Project Connect serve over the summer?
What types of services does Project Connect provide?
**Clearing obstacles for enrollment and attendance
**Providing preschool enrollment
**Assisting/arranging for transportation
**Providing school supplies and backpacks
**Arranging immediate access to free lunch programs
**Providing school uniform vouchers and/or clothing to students
**Making referrals for other educational, community and mental health resources
**Offering summer academic enrichment opportunities
**Offering school year academic and enrichment programming for elementary and high school students
**Providing surrogate services
**Social & emotional enrichment opportunities
What are some of the biggest challenges Project Connect faces?
It can be challenging to secure resources to meet the basic needs of some of the district’s most at-risk students and families. In addition, securing resources to mitigate the impact of trauma on learning can be a challenge.
What is ABC’s role with Project Connect?
Activities Beyond the Classroom is one of our most valued partners. ABC manages grant and donor funds for Project Connect, ensures fiscal accountability, and makes it possible to provide immediate access to funds for students who are in crisis.
Has there been a specific moment that stood out to you during your time with Project Connect?
There have been many moments that stood out to me over the years, from watching students overcome immense obstacles and go on to graduate college to moments where I have felt helpless. Destiny, one of our Taft students had a very traumatic high school experience after being removed from her mother due to mental health issues and abuse. Destiny bounced from home to shelter, and found comfort in her writing as a spoken word artist. (Therapeutic writing is one of the enrichment programs provided to high school girls through Project Connect). Destiny graduated this school year and received a full ride scholarship to Miami University. I am so proud of her resilience and drive during these years. It was not always easy for her to remain focused on the end goal as her basic needs were often not met, but she did it.
What would you like the general public to know about the children you serve?
The children served by Project Connect are Cincinnati’s children, and we have a moral obligation to ensure that they are safe and have resources to meet their basic needs and mitigate the impacts of trauma and poverty on learning.
What is the best part of working for Project Connect?
I have an amazing team who truly care about our children holistically. We are all so passionate about serving our children and coming up with creative ways to change the trajectory of their lives with optimal educational outcomes. We feel so honored to be able to serve our children and families.
How can our readers get involved with Project Connect?
You can learn more about us on our website:
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