It is often said that education is the great equalizer, empowering individuals from diverse backgrounds to unlock their full potential, bridge societal gaps, and pursue opportunities for a brighter and more equitable future. However, this ideal can be difficult to reach for many students in our community who are grappling with basic needs insecurity. When students’ basic needs are not met, it becomes incredibly challenging to fully engage in their education. Funding from the Foundation for VPS enables school staff to address gaps in needs and create an environment where every student can thrive.
Among VPS’s 21,000 students, over 55 percent are from families with incomes that qualified them for the free or reduced-price meal program last school year, a federal poverty indicator.
We work closely with district leadership and a network of Family-Community Resource Centers (FCRCs) to ensure students’ most urgent needs are met quickly, discreetly, and equitably. FCRCs serve as bridges between families and the school community, ensuring that resources are readily available to those who need them. 24 school-based coordinators, 2 mobile coordinators, Spanish & Chuukese family advocates, and other staff work tirelessly to establish a strong support system for families, helping them access vital services and connect with their children’s schools. FCRC staff reported 9,611 unique interactions with students and families during the 2022-23 school year. Coordinators tracked 98,600 connections with children and youth for basic needs and 16,035 connections with adult family members.
Food support is the most frequent request from students and families. Coordinators gave out 92,372 snacks last year. With support from the food bank, other partners, and the Foundation, VPS hosted 56 food pantries, providing an estimated 100,000 lbs. of food. On average, more than 50 families attended each food pantry. In addition, the Foundation and donors provided supplies for 219 food boxes last winter. To help students and their families who are struggling to make ends meet, the Foundation also distributes grocery gift cards through FCRCs, providing 609 cards last school year. In addition to helping students focus in class, proper nutrition is essential for brain development and cognitive function, making it clear that addressing hunger is a crucial step in promoting academic success.
Perhaps the most pressing issue faced by students and our community is a lack of affordable housing. District homeless youth coordinators supported more than 1,200 students experiencing homelessness at some point during the last school year, with the actual number of affected youth likely much higher. The Foundation has been a lifeline for VPS students and their families at risk of eviction. Last year the Housing Stability Fund prevented eviction for 221 families, impacting 493 children. Overall 797 families were assisted last year with housing referrals, rental assistance, or emergency temporary accommodations through FCRCs. The level of need for housing support continues to be unprecedented this school year. Families are also connected to in kind resources and additional financial support through the Foundation and other partners so that they can focus their monthly budget on their housing payment. Last year 234 households received utility assistance, affecting 634 children and gas cards were donated to ensure that students don’t miss out on valuable learning opportunities or healthcare and parents can report to work.
Access to clothing, shoes, school supplies, hygiene items, and medical care also make a significant difference in the lives of students, contributing to overall well-being and a sense of belonging. The Foundation provided 1,239 clothing vouchers last year for students to access appropriate clothes and shoes. Through the Write from the Start School Supply drive businesses and individuals donated school supplies and funds to get students what they needed to begin the school year ready to learn. In addition to other health and wellness initiatives, the Foundation provides schools with funds for students in need to access eye exams and eyeglasses.
Whatever needs arise, wrap-around services supported by the Foundation for VPS help students remain stable and focus on their education during challenging times. When a community comes together to support its youngest members by addressing issues like food and housing insecurity, access to healthcare and resources, we are nurturing the seeds of success in every student, ensuring that they have the opportunity to learn, grow, and thrive.