Midvale students are afterschool quilting for the Homeless Memorial Blanket Project
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.
“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.
“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.