reader opinion

Closing Madison Elementary School would disrupt vulnerable students


In a community grappling with the challenges of homelessness, one small school has become a beacon of hope and stability for the second-largest population of students experiencing homelessness in Olympia School District’s elementary schools. Madison Elementary has been instrumental in supporting these vulnerable children, providing them with the tools they need to overcome adversity and succeed academically.

Students experiencing homelessness are more likely to have chronic absences directly linked to barriers to education such as high mobility resulting in lack of continuity; lack of transportation; lack of supplies; and emotional crisis/mental health challenges. Madison is especially set up to meet each of those barriers.

The Olympia School Board, however, is actively considering closing Madison Elementary at the end of this school year.

Closing Madison would not only disrupt the lives of these vulnerable students but also deprive them of the stability and support they desperately need. This school has been a safe haven, providing them with a nurturing environment and a sense of belonging.

The school's small size allows students to receive individualized attention and targeted interventions to address their specific needs. The dedicated teachers and staff at Madison Elementary build strong relationships with these students, instilling a sense of trust, belonging, and community.

Students experiencing homelessness are more likely to live in high levels of crowding. Residential overcrowding has been shown to have negative impacts on a student’s social and emotional being and academic progress. The closure of Madison Elementary would not only strip these students of vital resources but also force them into larger, crowded schools that may lack the capacity to meet their needs through the creation of a close-knit community.

Beyond the classroom, Madison Elementary offers a range of specialized services and resources tailored to the unique challenges faced by homeless students. Thanks to Madison’s Principal, Mr. Domenico Spatola-Knoll, and his collaboration with generous donors in the community, every fall Madison classrooms are “adopted” by community organizations and all school supplies are provided. This means every Madison student, at every grade level, has all of their back-to-school supplies provided at no charge. This also means that every student at Madison receives identical school supplies, an equal start for every student.

Madison also partners with the community during their annual Holiday Store, where all students shop for their family members for free––a tradition that’s been going on for over twenty years. Students get to experience the joy of giving, no matter their background. Madison Elementary is a true embodiment of equity in action.

While all public schools can provide resources such as counseling services, access to free meals, transportation assistance, and after-school programs, Madison is uniquely able to provide those resources within a safe walking distance. The district’s own consultant ranked Madison Elementary number one in the district for walkability. Madison’s location removes a huge transportation barrier to students experiencing homelessness. Madison is their community, school, playground, and greenspace.

Community leaders and the school district must recognize the critical role that Madison Elementary plays in the lives of these students and the overall well-being of our community. We need to rally behind Madison Elementary and support its mission to provide stability, support, and educational opportunities to our community's most vulnerable youth. It is crucial that we come together to find alternative solutions that ensure its continued operation. Investing in the education and well-being of our homeless students is a commitment to the future of our community as a whole. 

          ~ Hannah Middlebrook, Olympia


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