BOULDER — At Centennial Middle School in Boulder, Elizabeth Van Lier works with some of the school’s most vulnerable students.
"As the community liaison, I'm kind of that bridge between the community and the school," she said.
In the last year, she said the number of students experiencing homelessness at Centennial Middle School doubled to more than a dozen students.
"I saw the need and housing increased dramatically — loss of jobs, loss of homes and then food insecurity," Van Lier said.
Seeing the increase in need, the Boulder Valley School District decided to apply for a grant to help. They received $86,000.
"These funds will be used primarily to support our students in the McKinney-Vento program, with both academic tutoring help, as they have fallen behind due to COVID, and also mental health support," said child welfare liaison with Boulder Valley School District Ema Lyman.
Van Lier said a challenge for many families is also transportation. The grant is helping the district personalize a plan for each family.
"The benefit of this tutoring program is that we work with them. We decide what works best with them: Is it virtual? Where do we meet you? Can we meet you at a location near your house? Is there like a community center we could meet? And we try to work with them," Van Lier said.
The BVSD has about 30,000 students. This year, about 300 students are in the Mckinney-Vento program, which provides services to children experiencing homelessness.
"We have the highest numbers of students qualified that we have ever had at this point in time," Lyman said.
With many families struggling to make ends meet, school is one of the few places in a child’s life that provides a sense of stability — something the district wants to keep alive.
"So yes, they might be displaced. They might be living in a van or staying at a hotel or in a shelter, but we try to maintain that consistency with them, keeping them with their friend groups, keeping them with the same community so they don't feel as separate," Van Lier said.
By closing those gaps, they can open the door for every student to have a shot at success.
"And that's what we want," Van Lier said.