Friday, January 30, 2009

New HEAR US Video Teaches Lesson Behind Bars

From behind bars, “Margo” learned an important lesson—her daughter did not need to change schools when she went to jail and the teenager moved in temporarily with her grandmother on the other side of town. After viewing the newly-released HEAR US video, “REACH—Connect Your Children to Education,” narrated by NBC-5 Chicago reporter LeeAnn Trotter, she now knows how to make the law work for her kids.

“I wish I had known this before she changed schools,” lamented Margo as she discussed her daughter’s case with HEAR US president Diane Nilan. Margo’s daughter would have been able to remain in her school under the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Act, something she and other parents now can learn from the new HEAR US video.

Having the REACH film available online gives parents or caretakers of children a chance to learn about a law that has been in effect nationally for 7 years. An accompanying brochure reiterates the information. It’s a law Nilan was instrumental in getting passed, first in her home state of Illinois back in 1994, and then on the federal level, championed by Congresswoman Judy Biggert (IL-13/R), in 2001. Nilan, in her well-traveled RV (home/office), is heading on her 4th cross-country venture across the nation’s backroads filming interviews for her newest documentary and giving presentations.

In addition to free viewing online, HEAR US announced that the REACH DVD may be purchased by jails, prison ministries, social service agencies or anyone wanting more information about the homeless education law.

Cook County (IL) Sheriff Tom Dart, who as a state legislator was a sponsor of the Illinois Education for Homeless Children Act, observed,

“Instead of letting kids fall through the cracks, HEAR US’ REACH film provides a roadmap for the educational rights to which each of these children are entitled.”
Dart paved the way for HEAR US to film at Cook County Jail, one of the nation’s largest corrections facilities. HEAR US also surveyed dozens of women and released a report, Mom in Jail: Kids Pay the Price.

Pointing to far more than 1.5 million homeless children and youth, Nilan’s hope is that they have at least consistency of education. “It’s the one stabilizing factor in an otherwise turbulent life,” she points out. “Kids get penalized unnecessarily if people are unaware of this law, and the caregivers often get saddled with additional burdens, such as school fees and needlessly proving residency for the child.”

After spending time in the Dallas area, Nilan heads to El Paso then Las Cruces in her quest to empower homeless parents and to give voice to kids who lack a place to call home. Believing that these kids are the best spokespersons, Nilan will travel far and wide to find them.

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