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Midvale students are afterschool quilting for the Homeless Memorial Blanket Project

Midvale Middle School, students with completed quilts, Dec. 1, 2022
Kristine Weller
All the students at Midvale Middle School who helped make quilts hold one of their projects, Dec. 1, 2022. They worked on quilts for three days after school. Quilt tops were made and donated by Vicky McIntosh, a local volunteer.

Over the course of three days after school, Midvale Middle School students gathered for an hour in the school’s library to work on quilts. It’s not an underground youth needlepoint movement. They’re quilting because they want to help people in need.

“You don’t know what someone else is going through until you are in their shoes, and I just love helping others,” said eighth grader Darling Barrientos.

They are participating in the Homeless Memorial Blanket Project, which will display handmade blankets in Washington D.C. The project will cover 9,000 square feet of the West Lawn. When it is disassembled after Dec. 21, the blankets and quilts will be given to families and individuals in need.

Midvale Middle School, students working on homelessness quilts, Dec. 1, 2022
Kristine Weller
Students at Midvale Middle School work on a quilt with the assistance of the after-school program leaders and the Canyons School District Homeless Liason, Dec. 1, 2022. They thread a tough, heavy thread through the quilt's three layers and then ty a know to secure the layers permanently.

“I think that it’s nice that they know that we thought of them,” said Sophia Arredondo, a sixth grader.

But some students also wanted to pay the kindness forward — many students in Midvale have experienced homelessness before.

Jeff Haney, the spokesperson for Canyons School District, said about 1,400 students in the district are labeled as McKinney-Vento. That essentially means they are homeless or lack stable housing.

“Just blocks away from our elementary school and middle school in Midvale, there’s a homeless shelter for families, and we know that many of our students come from the shelter every day,” Haney said.

Jeff Ojeda, the director of McKinney-Vento and Migrant Education in Utah, said the McKinney-Vento Act doesn’t reach students in a social capacity, but it does create academic stability for students experiencing homelessness by removing some barriers.

For example, it gives students immediate enrollment. For general school enrollment, there is a lot of paperwork required. With the act, students are immediately enrolled in school and are able to participate in school-sponsored activities. The act can also provide transportation for a student to go to a school they were attending before they became homeless and allow them to earn full credit even if they were only able to do part of the coursework.

“It helps remove [requirements] and allow for school districts and charters to be able to accept students that are in a homeless situation without penalizing them for being in that situation,” Ojeda said.

As of Oct. 1, 2022, Ojeda said there are 15,499 students identified as McKinney-Vento and supported through public schools in Utah. The figure isn’t an equivalent to other measures of homelessness.

There are ongoing efforts to better support children experiencing homelessness, since money from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is mainly designated for adults. The Utah legislature appropriated $3.5 million in the 2022 general session to fund a grant program to create homeless teen centers at schools around the state. The Utah State Board of Education approved the measure in August.

Ojeda said five districts and one charter have already been awarded funds.

Kristine Weller is a newsroom intern at KUER. She’s only been a journalist for a year but is excited to see what the future holds.
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