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Stressed about schools

Economic hardships mean students fear switching districts

Posted: February 16, 2009 12:08 a.m.
Updated: February 16, 2009 4:55 a.m.
Foreclosures and job losses are causing high levels of stress for students who fear getting yanked out of their schools because of their families' economic situation.

"We are losing a number of kids because their families are moving out of state, moving to the (San Fernando) Valley, moving back to Los Angeles, moving in with other families because they have lost their homes or they can no longer afford to live up here because of the high rents," said Hart district spokeswoman Pat Willett.

Brett of Valencia and his wife worked to keep their children in the same junior high and high schools when they lost their home in August. They moved in with relatives not far from their foreclosed home, but still had to file an appeal to keep their kids in the same schools.

"It's a tremendous amount of stress in our eyes, our kids were born and raised on (our street), the house was built for us and we were there for 11 years, so it's very disruptive for their life to take them out," he said.

Brett, who wanted to keep his last name private, said his three kids originally expressed concern over whether they'd be able to stay in their schools.

"They lost their friends in the neighborhood and they didn't want to lose their friends at school as well," he said.

Brett said an appeal also made sense because the move should only be temporary.

Two local school registrars said they're seeing many families move in with relatives or friends within the valley but outside their school's attendance area.

Many of those families and their children are afraid to tell the school their new address.

Saugus High School registrar Shari Polzer and Canyon High School registrar Maria Aguilar said a big indicator of the increase in student movement is the amount of returned mail piling up on their desks.

"This is a lot of pressure on kids. It's an adult situation," Polzer said. "They're scared and they're afraid we're going to kick them out of school so they don't want to come in and tell us. But when mail gets returned, we'll call them in and talk."

She said one girl has continuously visited her office because her family moved four times in one month.

"What we told her is we're not going to make her move (out of the school). She doesn't have to worry about anything like that," Polzer said. "So we told her when you move and you know where you're living at ... let us know so we know where to send the mail. It's kind of no questions asked."

Polzer said she sees the emotional impact these issues have on the students, which is where the school counselors come in, she said.

"You can definitely see it affects them probably in every area of their life," Polzer said. "Their whole life is turned upside down ... having to move to an unfamiliar place where somebody is just helping them out. You feel like a burden immediately."

To Gina Yates, a peer coordinator with the SCV Youth Project, the parents' and students' stress and concern makes complete sense.

"To be uprooted from your home, it's hard for a kid to not feel that stability," Yates said. "A home is where you're supposed to feel safe and stable and it's tough for parents to not feel they can provide."

Yates sees more kids looking for part-time jobs to help their parents out financially.

As the registrar, Aguilar said it is her station that gets hit with the crying parents.

"They look at us and don't know how to say it, but tears come out," she said. "The families are saying, ‘We had to move to an apartment, or we had to move out of the area, or we had to move in with another family, can we stay?'"

Aguilar said in her 10 years at the school, she's never seen the situation this bad.

Almost every day she is confronted with a family in a tough situation. "Everyone says we're coming back right away, we just need a couple months to save up for an apartment," Aguilar said. "People moved here in the first place because it was safe for their kids ...When they moved to this area, they moved because it was a better area to raise their kid."

Kim Goldman, director of the SCV Youth Project, recalled a mother she spoke to Thursday whose house is in foreclosure.

"People love the schools," she said. "She doesn't know what to do."

Polzer, Aguilar and Willett said they want to work with students and their families in these tough situations.
"There is some provision for families who have to move for some reason," Willett said. "Our inter-district transfer policy does allow for a student to stay in their school as long as their family is still living in the district."

Aguilar said requirements are being stretched somewhat to let students who move out the attendance area to stay in their school. Those moving out of Santa Clarita must refer to the district.

"A lot of these people are experiencing this and never gone through this, so there's a lot of embarrassment and shame," Polzer said. "We want them to know we'll help them. We're not here to beat them up or kick them out."


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