Gabriela Barros, MS, Broward County Public Schools (BCPS),
Homeless Education Assistance Resource Team (H.E.A.R.T.)
Homeless Education Program Specialist
Homelessness among children and youth remains a challenging and extremely
disruptive problem faced by many families in Broward County, Florida.
Unemployment, lack of affordable housing, natural disasters, poverty, domestic
violence, and the influx of people migrating to Broward County seeking better
opportunities, including social services resources, have exacerbated local
homelessness. The challenges facing students experiencing homelessness are
immense, with significant negative impacts on children and youth academically,
socially, and emotionally.
Homelessness presents students with a myriad of barriers that they struggle
against every day to stay in school and on track to graduate on time. To persist in
school and be successful, these students need a range of system of supports in
place to combat their high school mobility rate, chronic absenteeism, and gaps in
graduation rates in comparison to non-homeless students. This includes sound
dropout prevention initiatives.
Given the heavy toll homelessness takes on students, the Homeless Education
Assistance Resource Team (H.E.A.R.T.) program strives to go above and beyond
to advocate for students who are experiencing housing instability. Connections
are built with various resources to minimize the educational ramifications these
students are prone to experience if the appropriate resources were not accessible
to them. The H.E.A.R.T. program is responsible for removing systemic barriers to
the education of students experiencing homelessness along with carrying out the
provisions of the Subtitle VII-B of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act
(42.U.S.C.11431 et seq.).
Reauthorized in 2001 under the No Child Left Behind Act, and most recently
amended by the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015, this primary piece of the
federal legislation related to the education of children and youth experiencing
homelessness, requires school districts (public and charter) and post-secondary
education institutions to ensure that every child and youth have equal access to the
same free, appropriate public education, including a public preschool education,
as provided to other children and youths. In compliance with this federal legislation
under Title IX, Part A of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act grant,
Broward County Public Schools provides additional educational services to students
who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence through the H.E.A.R.T.
Devoted to serve as an agent of change in order to continue to change lives through
education and help displaced students break-free from cycles such as deep poverty,
the H.E.A.R.T. program’s daily efforts are catered towards removing all barriers
to the identification, enrollment, attendance and academic success of children
and youth experiencing homelessness while promoting school access, retention,
stability and greater educational outcomes.
Committed to adhering to the vision of Broward County Public Schools which
states “educating today’s students to succeed in tomorrow’s world”, the H.E.A.R.T.
program believes in the importance of supplementing services to these students
with the intent to narrow the achievement gap between students experiencing
homelessness in comparison to non-homeless students.
Through our District’s “Student Housing Questionnaire” at any point during the
school year, families, including caregivers and youth, have the opportunity to
disclose relevant information pertaining to their housing status and/or living
situation. With this information available, the H.E.A.R.T. program can determine
if students meet eligibility criteria for McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act
services. According to this federal legislation, qualifying students have the following
rights: i. Right to immediate school enrollment even when records are not present
at the time of enrollment (30-day grace period to obtain); ii. Right to remain in the
school of origin, if in the student’s best interest, iii. Right to receive transportation to
and from the school of origin; iv. Right to receive support for academic success.
Fully embracing the “one student, one school, and one school year” mind-set, the
H.E.A.R.T. program has educational services readily available for qualifying students
starting when they are first identified until the remainder of the same school year;
even if their episode of homelessness ends before the end of the school year.
The foundation of the H.E.A.R.T. program stands firmly on the belief that every
heartbeat matters! Despite the housing status of every student in our District, all of
them can be well equipped to reach their highest potential once they are connected
to vital resources needed. Also, this program opens many doors to qualifying
students and provides services to promote academic excellence. Education is not
only the key to a better life outcome and promising future, but also the pulse of the
For more information, please contact the H.E.A.R.T. office at (754)
321-1566 or visit their website at https://www.browardschools.com/