At 23, Stacey Bess landed a teaching job that seemed daunting at first: teaching children in a homeless shelter in Salt Lake City.
“I wasn’t sure I wanted this opportunity,” Bess told School Bus Fleet in an interview. “I was really quite freaking out about it.”
Her initial task was to teach the whole gamut of grades, from kindergarten through high school, with an average of about 26 students at a time. She soon developed a fascination for homeless education, which she found was as much about educating the parents as it was the children.
“Really it was the most enjoyable job in the whole world, because I had mom[s] and dad[s] right on site with me,” Bess said.
She also motivated the students to go beyond their current situation and pursue success. A key part of that was convincing them that they could.
“[Later in life], they actually say to me, ‘It worked. You told us over and over again how great we are, and we believed you,’” she said. “These are kids who have risen above the last generation.”
Bess noted that pupil transportation professionals are also in a good position to have a positive impact on homeless students who ride their buses. She gave an example of a school bus driver who kept a box of granola bars under her seat. If she found out that one of her passengers hadn’t had breakfast, she would slip him or her a granola bar.
Even just a smile and a warm greeting can go a long way to encourage homeless students, Bess added.
“People don’t realize how important those words are to kids,” she said. “You might be the first person to talk to them that morning.”