Andrea and I sat cramped around a little two-top table at a Starbucks near her apartment, materials from her U.S. government class spread out before us. The handouts were photocopied news articles about teenagers pursuing The American Dream, the topic of an essay Andrea was writing. There was the Somali “Lost Boy” and his remarkable rise from child soldier to U.S. college student; there was a young woman who escaped the Taliban and made it to a U.S. high school, then college on a scholarship.
Like these teens, 17-year-old Andrea wants to graduate from high school, go to college, and pursue a career. But just hitting the first goal—high school graduation—has often seemed impossible, because Andrea’s family has been homeless on and off since she was 12. For the last five years she has been a student at the Monarch School in San Diego, a school exclusively for homeless children. It’s the largest one of its kind in the nation and the only one that serves high school students. There is no official accounting of schools that serve only homeless students but three are often cited along with Monarch: TLC, a public K–6 school in Stockton, California; Positive Tomorrows, a free K–5 private school in Oklahoma City; and Children First Academy, a non-profit K–8 charter school with campuses in Tempe and Phoenix serving students at the poverty line, the majority of whom are homeless.
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