A new school year begins Tuesday, August 20, for the more than 600,000 students in the Los Angeles Unified School District — 15,000 of whom are homeless.  

That represents 2.5% of the LAUSD student population. But that figure jumps to 10 times that much – 24% — at Telfair Elementary School in Pacoima, which last year became the poster child for this social ill. 

A quarter of Telfair’s nearly 800 students live in garages, motels and shelters, according to published media reports in November 2018.  

“The schools in the Pacoima neighborhood have some of the highest homeless populations in the city. In fact, the North Valley Zone of Choice enrolls 10% of all homeless students in the city — and the percent of homeless students in the area is twice as high as the district-wide average,” noted the website schooldatanerd.com

“But in terms of sheer percent – Telfair is still unique,” the website added.

The school will begin the new school year with a new principal, Eduardo Carrillo, who will face many of the challenges faced by his predecessor.

He said he would do all he can to ensure don’t let negative circumstances keep them from growing and developing. 

“I was born and raised in San Fernando,” Carillo said. “I know firsthand the challenges of what the community is about and what they face, because I was part of that growing up. But, as a child, that’s what shapes you — putting in that effort in school and whatever you do in life. Because if you put in the effort, that’s gonna take you a long way in life.” 

Regarding his first semester as principal, Carrillo said, “Some of the challenges I think will come across this year is how to balance all of the initiatives and programs Telfair has. A lot of help has come to Telfair, from supplies to clothes. But how do we get back to the basics of providing solid instruction for our students — the English and art instruction, the math instruction.

“Ultimately we are here to provide a quality education for all students; teaching the basics of reading, writing and computation skills in math. Now the systems are in place and we have the structure. Enhancing the instruction here…has been one of the challenges. But I see a great opportunity here at Telfair.” 

Backpacks for Students

One of the difficulties for homeless students is showing up for class lacking school supplies.

One nonprofit organization — the Sydney Paige Foundation — is trying to help.

“At Sydney Paige, we are deeply passionate about providing QUALITY backpacks and supplies to kids in need in order to make a true, and lasting, impact,” said Courtney Brockmeyer, founder and executive director of the Sydney Paige Foundation. “Unfortunately, so much of what gets donated breaks after a couple of months (or even weeks) of use and the child is right back where they started from . . . carrying their books in trash/grocery bags without homework supplies to do their work . . . standing out as poor / different.

“Each backpack and school supply is specifically designed to instill confidence and the love of learning in the children we are so fortunate to be able to serve,” Brockmeyer said.

In the individual backpack drive for Telfair, the foundation’s website states that while schools do manage to have supplies for students in the classroom, the problem arises when the children head home.  

“Many of the elementary school students that we help live below the poverty level and in fact, many of the students at Telfair are homeless. Most of the basic items that we take for granted everyday are out of reach for these young students. We know that simple supplies, like a pencil, paper or crayons, can make the difference between students doing their homework and failing,” according to the page.

“By giving every student from Pre-Kindergarten - 5th grade a brand new backpack full of homework supplies, we let them know that they can be the kind of student they want to be,” it notes.

The foundation is also collecting donations to help four other San Fernando Valley schools: Canoga Park Elementary School, Rosa Parks Learning Center in North Hills, Haddon Avenue STEAM Academy and Sara Coughlin Elementary School. The last two are in Pacoima. 

Brockmeyer said that they are still trying to get sponsors and donations to supply the backpacks to the five San Fernando Valley elementary schools, but “they’ll probably won’t be ready before the start of the new school year, but soon after.”

To help with this effort for Telfair and other schools, visit https://www.sydneypaige.org.

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