A second chance: Meade High School sponsors programs to help homeless students

Carrel May, a senior at Meade High School who was once homeless, talks about his prom night with Khristine Smith, a social worker at the school. (Photo by Lisa R. Rhodes)

Eighteen-year-old Carrel May lived with his father, younger sister and her infant daughter in a local hotel for two years.

At the time, his father was employed at a local Jiffy Lube.

May, now a senior at Meade High School, said there wasn’t a washing machine at the hotel, so he often would go for as long as a week without clean clothes.

May said his father seldom shopped for groceries, so he and his sister ate leftovers or nothing at all. Ultimately, his father sent him out of the hotel. May often lived on the streets, sometimes going from one friend’s house to another for shelter.

Except for his four sisters, May said he is not in contact with his family.

“My family is dysfunctional,” he said.

Currently, 41 students at Meade High School are identified as homeless, according to Jackie Neil, the homeless student liaison for the Anne Arundel County Public Schools.

Servant Leadership

The McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Act of 2001 states: “Homeless children and youths means individuals who lack a fixed, regular nighttime residence.”

Meade High Principal John Yore said the school is dedicated to serving all students who are in need.

“We believe in servant leadership,” Yore said. “Our mission is to serve students and their families. … Education is a critical element in helping young people overcome challenging circumstances.

“I want our community to know our commitment to educating their and our children. No matter the circumstances, education will support a solution.”

Today, May, is looking forward to graduation. He now lives with a friend and attended his prom on Saturday.

Although May was suspended two months ago, Yore and other school administrators are giving him a second chance.

Khristine Smith, a social worker at Meade High, has counseled May since meeting him during his freshman year at Mary Moss Academy, an alternative school in Anne Arundel County.

She continues to work with him at Meade High and has connected May with the Anne Arundel Workforce Development Corporation for job training.

“He is a survivor — very intelligent and articulate,” Smith said. “I think he’s got a really good heart.”

Meade Matters is a Meade High program that provides meals and clothing to students in need and to their families. It is supported by donations of food, clothing and money from faculty, parents and graduates of Meade High who were once homeless themselves.

The Fort Meade community also donates to the 12-year-old program.

Meade Matters serves students who attend Meade High, Meade Middle School, MacArthur Middle School, Meade Heights Elementary School or Van Bokkelen Elementary School.

Joyce Willis, a physical education teacher at Meade High, and Felicia Simmons, chair of the Department of Family and Consumer Services at Meade High, coordinate the program.

“We saw a lot of students who were in need and tried to figure out a way to help them and allow them to remain anonymous,” Simmons said. “We have grown tremendously since we started.”

Simmons said the program serves families whose parents have lost their job or have been evicted from housing and have a child who attends one of the Meade cluster schools.

Families are provided with food and clothing and sometimes with funds for transportation if the parents do not have access to a car.

The program also provides food baskets at Thanksgiving and Christmas, as well as holiday toys for children.

A Helping Hand

Promise Tomorrow, an associated program sponsored by Meade Matters, provides donated prom and formal attire for students in need.

This year, 25 students — including May — were helped by the program. His graduation cap and gown and class fees were all paid for by the Student Services Office of the Anne Arundel County Public Schools.

Students who qualify for free or reduced-priced meals through the county schools and are homeless, are also provided assistance. All they have to do is meet with a social worker in the school’s guidance department as part of qualifying for support.

Happy Helpers for the Homeless is another Meade High program that serves students in need.

Bobbi Coffman, a teaching assistant and school service-learning and parent volunteer program coordinator at the high school, is the executive director.

“Happy Helpers for the Homeless provides full boxes of food to Meade High students, their siblings and parents 52 weeks a year,” Coffman said.

Currently, 160 people are supported by the program.

Smith said students in need face many obstacles that can make their educational experience very difficult if they are not provided with support.

“Things we take for granted, these students struggle with,” Smith said.

Students may come from a home where a parent is unemployed or has a chronic health condition, such as a mental health issue, or an addiction.

“Parents get by from paycheck to paycheck,” Smith said. “Once you’ve gotten behind in your rent or not paid a utility bill, things get difficult.”

Smith said parents may struggle to pay medical bills or traffic tickets or they may have a lien on their vehicle.

The financial weight they carry is often hard to overcome.

As a result, students may miss a lot of classes or fall behind in their coursework as families move from one location to another in search of affordable housing.

Some of the homeless students at the high school live at Sarah’s House, a transitional housing program on Annapolis Road sponsored by Catholic Charities, or at Meade Village, a housing complex in nearby Severn.

Students may try to work part-time to help their family, which also can interfere with their studies.

Smith helps students and families in navigating both the county’s and state’s system of social services to help them get back on their feet.

Hope For The Future

In addition to the Meade High programs, Smith relies on Hope For All, a Christian nonprofit organization in Glen Burnie.

The nonprofit provides “basic human necessities (such as furniture, housewares, clothing and personal items) to families and individuals without sufficient economic resources and serves Anne Arundel County, parts of Baltimore City and the Appalachian region,” according to its website.

Hope For All has provided furniture and housewares for Meade High families in need, Smith said.

After leaving the hotel, May struggled with life on the streets.

“My father put me out,” he said. “… I was running the streets, selling drugs, robbing people. I got locked up twice and I possessed guns.”

While he said it was appealing to not have to live by any rules, May admitted that life was hard.

“You don’t want people to know you lived in a hotel,” May said. “I felt uncomfortable telling people I didn’t have a home.”

Today, May is grateful to Meade High for its support.

“Ms. Smith has been by my side in all my bad situations. … She has been a tremendous help,” he said. “If it wasn’t for Mr. Yore, I wouldn’t be here.

“When I graduate, I’m going to make a lot of people proud.”

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