New fund to help students in need Program aims to cut absences


Faced with a rise in requests from needy students, Howard County educators are launching a fund drive to help pay for such necessities as food, medicine, glasses and school supplies.

This year 300 to 400 students or their families requested money for basic needs from the schools' Pupil Personnel office, which was able to provide assistance to more than 200. Just three years ago the number of requests averaged 100 to 150. There's simply not enough money now, said Peter Finck, a pupil personnel official.

A pupil personnel fund has met all the demands in previous years, but "that's not been the case the past three years," he said. "We have not been able to meet the needs of all the people who need help."

Although Howard County is a wealthy county, Mr. Finck said, "there are families who are out of work at this point and have been unable to pay for rent."

The new fund, called the Help-A-Child Program, will help pay for any item that would help bolster needy students' attendance and academic performance.

The fund starts next school year 1nd will depend on donations from teachers, administrators and secretaries, all members of the Howard County Education Association. A $10 donation is asked and up to $4,000 is expected to be raised.

"More often than not, the reason children are not going to school is not because they don't want to go to school, but because there are other barriers in place," said Mr. Finck.

Such barriers can exist when a family is unable to pay for basics, like home heating or medical care. The schools' pupil personnel workers, who routinely check on students who are absent more than 20 percent of the time, find many of them in such circumstances.

The majority of needy students are in elementary schools and live with their mothers in homeless shelters or subsidized housing. The office has a $50 limit but in some cases has given a little more to families to pay utility bills or late rent. The fund has paid for pricey items such as eyeglasses and winter coats as well as less expensive needs, including pencils and three-ring binders.

In one instance, the office gave a mother $25 to file applications to get federal-subsidized housing. She was staying at a homeless shelter and was unable to pay for diapers for her preschooler.

Another time, the office paid for a mother's cab fare so she and her 13-year-old daughter could go to a walk-in clinic. The mother had pneumonia, and the daughter had an infectious skin rash that forced her to stay home from school.

The pupil personnel office also sponsors a holiday fund-raiser auctioning wreaths, summer vacations and other donated items to raise $1,000 to $2,000 for its school fund for needing children. Mr. Finck said his office will welcome any donations.

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