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The Mountain Home Public Schools’ Board of Education received an update on student engagement from Director of Student Services Brent Bogy during its monthly meeting following a closed special session on Thursday night.
Bogy is responsible for assisting struggling students in getting back into the classroom after becoming disengaged during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We know that following COVID, we had a number of students that became disengaged for a variety of reasons,” said Dr. Jake Long, superintendent for Mountain Home Public Schools. “It’s been pretty interesting and eye-opening to hear some of the things he’s been able to help our students with.”
To help combat student disengagement, the school district established a COVID-19 referral system across its seven campuses. Once a student is referred, Bogy reaches out to the student and their parents to develop a plan to get them back in the classroom.
Since August, the program has received 130 referrals, with most referrals being for attendance issues.
“I go out, and I visit with the parents, and we try to identify barriers that keep kids from coming to school,” said Brent Bogy, director of student services. “So, then we make plans. We figure out ways to adapt and figure ways to overcome.”
Bogy said some of the barriers students face include mental health, social anxiety, lack of food, lack of transportation, lack of family support, and poor living conditions.
To date, the school district currently has around 90 homeless students enrolled across its campuses. Thirteen of those students are unaccompanied youths aged 18 or older.
“Some of the living conditions that I’ve been in are atrocious. They’re filthy,” Bogy said. “So, you can see why some kids have social anxiety. It’s about coming to school and being around other people. So, we work on things to get past it, like buying new clothes and working with folks to try and clean up their places.”
Bogy said the older homeless students are currently house hopping, with some living under tarps, tents, or in their cars. A few have taken to many of the local motels in town, but that option is often expensive, running the students anywhere between $900-1300 a month.
The motels also lack kitchens for cooking and linen services, forcing students to spend even more money to cover laundry and food.
“Most motels are charging a premium price, if not more,” Bogy said. “Some of the prices I’ve seen is between $900 and $1300 a month in rent. They don’t even get turn-in service for that. There’s no place to cook. They don’t provide them with any linens or toilet paper. So those folks are going motel to motel, one day at a time, and you know, they’re worried about being evicted.”
Bogy said much of the problem stems from the housing crisis in Mountain Home.
The city, which is currently going through a boom, has seen an influx of new residents buying up properties throughout the city and Baxter County. This influx has created a shortage in the housing market in the area, making it difficult for even well-off families to find a home in a timely manner.
Several organizations and churches, like the Salvation Army, The Food Bank of North Central Arkansas, and Serenity’s Safe Shelter, have stepped up to provide students access to food, clothing, and shelter through tiny homes and campers. Still, space and resources are limited, and not everyone can get the help they need.
“It’s hard to get everyone in them,” Bogy said. “People come to you, and you can’t help them. That’s a hard thing to tell people.”
While the situation is eye-opening, Bogy said he’s seen success with the program. Several high school students who dropped out last year have returned to the classroom and are working with Body and educators to finish their education and walk across the stage during graduation.
Bogy also said the program has helped parents get jobs, provided students with consistent transportation, and helped with students’ medical needs.
“We appreciate what you’re doing,” said Neal Pendergrass, the 20-year veteran of Mountain Home’s school board. “It’s so easy for all of us because we’re considered to be wealthy, and in a lot of ways we are, but there is that group that somehow we all seem to overlook.”
In other school board meeting news, the board agreed to raise the wages of its educators by 3% during Thursday’s meeting. They also approved amendments for state and federal funding and approved the purchase of new computers for Mountain Home High School’s CTE labs.
Lastly, the board agreed to renew the district’s COVID-19 Relief Resolution, which has been changed to reflect Arkansas’s updated COVID-19 guidelines.
“We have real problems. We have big-city problems in Mountain Home. It’s just on a smaller level,” Bogy said.