Miami-Dade County Public Schools’ Project UP-START Supports Students Experiencing Unstable Housing
Nearly 2.5 million youth nationwide experience homelessness every year. Along with losing their homes, community, friends, routines, and their sense of stability and safety, many homeless youths are also victims of trauma. While trying to survive on the streets, they are exposed to countless dangers, with an increased likelihood of substance abuse, early parenthood, depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, and a vulnerability to being trafficked.
Miami-Dade County Public Schools’ (M-DCPS) Project UP-START is an educational support program for children and youth living in unstable housing in our community. The program assists in identifying and enrolling students in transition and ensuring their successful academic achievement. The core of the program is preventing students in transition from being stigmatized, separated, segregated, or isolated.
A student who is residing in the following circumstances qualifies for Project UP-START:
- Sharing the housing of other persons due to loss of housing, economic hardship, or a similar reason, also known as “doubled-up”
- Living in motels, hotels, trailer parks, or camping grounds due to the lack of alternative adequate accommodations
- Living in emergency or transitional shelters
- Living in a car, park, public space, abandoned building, substandard housing, or other public or private place that is not designed for ordinary use as a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings.
Project UP-START services are available to M-DCPS students in preschool through 12th grade who are experiencing any of the circumstances listed above and who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence. Each school has a designated UP-START Liaison to help identify qualified students.
Efforts are made to meet the needs of children served by Project UP-START by performing psycho-educational evaluations for students who may be gifted or who are experiencing academic or behavioral difficulties. Tutorial sessions are offered to promote a healthy sense of self and to strengthen academic competence. The parent/family component brings participants to workshops to learn ways to help their children with homework, how to communicate with school staff, and how to access the Parent Portal. Parental/family involvement meetings are scheduled on a regular basis at selected shelter sites to encourage the academic success of students participating in Project UP-START.
District staff has partnered with student leaders to organize a Districtwide Homeless Awareness Campaign, an initiative founded in 2015 by Cristina Cantero, an alumna of M-DCPS’ Young Women’s Preparatory Academy. The campaign encourages collaboration between schools and the community to open the doors to academic opportunities, remove barriers, and promote a healthy sense of self for all students participating in the Project UP-START.