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It Takes a Village to Educate Homeless Kids

Girls practice a mock space mission at the Challenger Space Center.

CSULB hosted girls from the Villages at Cabrillo on a visit to the Columbia Memorial Space Center in Downey, where they practiced a mock space mission at the Challenger Space Center.

On the west side of Long Beach is the Century Villages at Cabrillo, a 27-acre neighborhood where public and private agencies including CSULB provide housing and social services to help community members overcome homelessness.

It’s tough enough for underprivileged kids to attend school on a regular basis, much less think about college, so one way to get these children engaged in learning is to bring education to them.

That’s where two Cal State Long Beach programs pitch in to help.

Six years ago, the Science Education Department began working with the Long Beach Unified School District’s (LBUSD) Bethune Transitional Center to offer a free two-week summer science education camp at the Villages for kindergarten through middle school children.

A girl from the Villages at Cabrillo on  a visit to the Columbia Memorial Space Center in Downey, where they practiced a mock space mission at the Challenger Space Center.This year, teams led by a credentialed science teacher along with CSULB science education students taught the children grade-appropriate content in the morning, followed by afternoon activities presented by the Long Beach Community Action Partnership, said Laura Henriques, professor and former Science Education Department chair. For example, kindergartners studied science of the human body while middle school students studied crime scene investigations.

Over the years, funding has come from the Verizon Foundation and the Earl and Loraine Miller Foundation, among others. Additionally the Smile Bright Foundation conducted dental screenings, and the Lion’s Club along with St. Mary Medical Center’s Low Vision Center provided vision screenings and eyeglasses, Henriques said.

Then in August, 37 elementary and middle school girls and mothers from the Villages lived for a week in CSULB student housing to learn about college life and the field of engineering through Engineering Girls—It Takes a Village, organized by Lily Gossage, research associate for CSULB’s Office of Engineering Educational Research and Assessment.

Gossage was touched by a visit to the Villages and had worked with the university’s Women in Engineering Outreach Program, so she partnered with Long Beach City College’s (LBCC) College Advancement and Economic Development Office, which provided $86,654 from the California Community College Chancellor’s Office Career Technical Education Pathways Initiative. The California Space Grant Consortium provided an additional $10,000.

“This effort builds upon our partnership with LBUSD and our efforts to form promising career pathways in architecture/engineering and underwater robotics for middle school girls by providing students first-hand experience in STEM careers—an industry where women are largely underrepresented—while at the same time raising awareness of the education offerings at both LBCC and CSULB for underserved students,” said Marty Alvarado, director of Workforce Programs at LBCC.

It was an immersive week for the girls. LBUSD teachers and CSULB engineering students served as mentors; CSULB and LBCC faculty provided a variety of workshops on everything from human factors psychology to designing prosthetic arms, building bridges and practicing Japanese origami paper folding; and student organizations led recreational activities. CSULB employees donated gift cards for personal care items as well as blankets and other supplies for the girls.

Gossage said the Consolidated State Performance Report from the National Center for Homeless Education noted that more than 220,000 homeless children attended public schools in California in 2011. Poverty is one of the greatest barriers to children succeeding in school.