McKinney-Vento program removes educational barriers for students experiencing homelessness 

If Fort Collins High School student Ricky could tell his peers one thing, he would say “if you’re going through tough times, just reach out.”

For him, it’s made all the difference.

With his eyes set on a bright future career in either criminal justice or mechanical engineering, Ricky is flourishing during his senior year. He enjoys the real-world applications of his government class. He’s got an eye for lighting and composition thanks to a photography course. And, despite a tumultuous home life that resulted in multiple cross-country moves and transfers between three different high schools in just four years, this driven teen is prepared to graduate on time in May.

During his junior year, Ricky qualified for services under the McKinney-Vento Act, which is designed to provide students experiencing homelessness with resources and protections that remove educational barriers. Students who lack fixed, adequate, and regular housing qualify for these services. This can include students whose families are living in emergency shelters, motels, cars, and inadequate housing. It also includes students who, for whatever reason, are not in the physical custody of a parent or legal guardian. 

“It does help out a lot,” Ricky said. When he first qualified under McKinney-Vento, he was living with a family friend and working late-night shifts at McDonalds to make ends meet. He needed new clothes, help paying fees for athletics, and most of all, an advocate who had only his best interests at heart. 

“At that time, my voice didn’t really matter,” he said. “But they (staff helping Ricky through McKinney-Vento) really pushed to help me.”

If you would like to help students experiencing homelessness, you can donate to the McKinney-Vento program. Checks can be delivered to the Johannsen Support Services building at 2407 Laporte Ave., Fort Collins, CO 80521. Please write “McKinney-Vento” on the check's memo line.

Around 900 Poudre School District students are experiencing homelessness and qualify for McKinney-Vento services. Some of these students are experiencing homelessness with their families, while others are unaccompanied, which means they do not live with a parent or legal guardian. 

“Our goal is to have kids who qualify for McKinney-Vento feel like school is a safe and stable constant in their life,” said Whitney Reid, PSD’s Program Specialist for Homeless Education. 

Reid said the goal of McKinney-Vento is to help get students basic needs met so they can focus on learning. This can include giving students gas cards so they can afford to get to school, providing clean clothes, hygiene supplies, and arranging access to shower supplies. It can also mean getting students school supplies, calculators, and covering fees for extracurricular activities.  

“Everybody has unique needs,” she said. “We look at each student and their unique barriers to see how we can work together to remove those, so school can be a place where they are safe and successful.”